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Homeland Security

SLUG: 6-13098 Patriot Act Debate









INTRO: There continues to be a vigorous debate in the United States over how police powers should be enlarged to counter the threat of terrorism. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress approved the Patriot Act, which expanded law enforcement powers. But critics have begun to contend that some provisions of the act violate the Constitution. As the debate heats up, we get a sampling now from V-O-A's ____________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup.

TEXT: Attorney General John Ashcroft has been telling audiences that the terrorism threat requires more aggressive policing techniques, such as clandestine home searches. The New York Times puts its concerns this way.

VOICE: This public-relations offensive comes . at a time when a growing number of Americans are saying the original act already gives government too much power. Faced with these reasoned objections, the administration is becoming more shrill: last week, Attorney General . Ashcroft named librarians as the latest group to pose a threat to freedom. . The administration is acting as if it does not have the legal powers it needs to fight terrorism, when it does.

TEXT: One of the provisions of the existing act allows federal agents to see what books people buy at bookstores and take out at public libraries. So far, according to a new report, the government has not used that power, but Ohio's Akron Beacon Journal comments:

VOICE: . the concerns are not baseless. The administration is waging an aggressive war on terrorism, which compels casting a wide net for suspects. The potential for abuse of elastic powers is real. Moreover, the marked reticence in the Bush administration . to divulge detailed information on matters related to the war has added in no small measure to the dark suspicions and hyperbole.

TEXT: In the nation's capital, the Washington Times defends the administration's campaign for greater powers to fight terrorism, saying they are necessary to fight a new kind of war.

VOICE: Attorney General . Ashcroft is under heavy fire for his efforts to ensure there is not a repetition of September 11 . In a speech [in Washington 8-21] [he] began a long-overdue campaign to rebut critics of the Patriot Act, who assert, we believe incorrectly, that the administration is using its powers in a manner that violates the Constitution and runs roughshod over individual liberty. . Given that the Patriot Act is targeted on investigating and preventing mass-murder terrorist activity, [these law enforcement expansions are] . not only reasonable, but absolutely necessary.

TEXT: In Florida, the Tampa Tribune is somewhat supportive, but with reservations.

VOICE: We haven't objected to most of the government's efforts to defeat terrorism because maintaining security is the primary function of the state, and in general, [Mr.] Ashcroft's Justice Department has done a good job of attending to the security issues of the nation. But secrecy doesn't always provide security. Indeed, openness is often the guardian of liberty. By its . nature, the Patriot Act calls for secrecy and so demands perpetual scrutiny by the citizenry. The government shouldn't frustrate attempts to evaluate the efficacy of the act.

TEXT: Still in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel says of the government's decision to release the information that no libraries or bookstores had been checked:

VOICE: That, of course, is no guarantee that agents won't take advantage of that power in the future. Even so, Mr. Ashcroft's decision to release this information could blunt some of the Patriot Act criticism. Perhaps . Mr. Ashcroft . will finally learn a basic civics lesson that has eluded him so far: Excessive secrecy breeds mistrust of government.

TEXT: In the capital of Texas, the Austin American-Statesman is especially worried about one specific request in the expanded law.

VOICE: It is the issue of administrative subpoenas that need no prior approval from a court or grand jury that is causing the greatest worry. Before someone merely suspected of a crime has his or her constitutional rights violated, a court, at the very least, should examine the evidence before approving or denying a search warrant.. The Bush administration is going too far without any credible evidence of the need for abrogating individual rights.

TEXT: On that note from the Austin American Statesman, we conclude this sampling of press opinion on the proposal to expand the enforcement powers of the anti-terrorism law.


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