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22 July 2005

U.S. House Renews Important Anti-terrorism Law

Senate to consider extending Patriot Act provisions

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved extending all major provisions of the widely debated USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law, though with differences.

The House voted 257-171 July 21 to make permanent 14 of 16 key provisions while extending the two remaining sections an additional 10 years. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved its version of the law unanimously, but with greater restraints on the government's powers.  And it voted to extend the same 14 provisions permanently, but to extend two others for only four years.

The full Senate is expected to begin debate in September after returning from its August recess.

"I commend the House for voting to reauthorize provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire this year," President Bush said July 21 in a statement issued by the White House.  "The Patriot Act has enhanced information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence personnel, updated the law to adapt to changes in technology, and provided critical tools to investigate terrorists that have been used for years in cases against organized crime and drug dealers."

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales praised the House action, saying it has once again provided law enforcement personnel “with critical tools in their efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people."

Because of strong bipartisan support, the measure should easily pass in the Senate, Gonzales said in a July 21 statement.

The anti-terrorism law, which Congress passed overwhelmingly in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.  Most of the law is permanent, though 16 provisions are set to expire at the end of December unless Congress renews them.

Bush asked Congress to renew all the provisions and to add a provision to allow law enforcement agencies to issue administrative subpoenas in terrorism cases.

Administrative subpoenas, which the FBI currently uses in cases involving drug trafficking and health care fraud, would allow federal agents to demand documents and other materials in terrorism investigations without a federal judge's approval.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress in recent hearings that key sections of the Patriot Act permit intelligence and law enforcement agencies to share critical counterterrorism information.

Mueller said that the "current integrated approach, which grew from the Patriot Act's information sharing provisions ... allows [federal] agents to more openly work with other governmental agencies."

Before the Patriot Act, federal law limited how much information law enforcement personnel and the intelligence community could share, he said, hampering effective intelligence investigations.

LAW DOES NOT INFRINGE ON CIVIL LIBERTIES, GONZALES SAYS

Opponents of the provisions in the anti-terrorism law that widen intelligence-sharing want Congress to scale back or remove several provisions, fearing those provisions may infringe on individual civil liberties.

Gonzales maintained, however, that there has "not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" since the law went into effect.  "The Department of Justice has exercised care and restraint in the use of these important authorities, because we are committed to the rule of law."

Any differences between the House-passed version and a Senate measure would have to be resolved before final approval and the president's signature into law.

"The Patriot Act is a key part of our efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people, and the Congress needs to send me a bill soon that renews the act without weakening our ability to fight terror," Bush said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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