Senate passes anti-terrorism legislation
By Dana Bash
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate passed a bill late Thursday night expanding law enforcement's ability to go after terrorists, following the attacks on the United States September 11 which left thousands dead.
The vote -- which took place shortly before midnight -- was 96-1, with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, voting against the measure.
The bipartisan legislation is the result of weeks of talks between Senate Democrats, Republicans and Justice Department officials -- all who were negotiating in search of a balance between broadening law enforcement powers and preserving Americans' civil liberties.
"Despite my misgivings, I have acquiesced in some of the administration's proposals because it is important to preserve national unity in this time of crisis and to move the legislative process forward," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.
In a statement, President Bush praised the passage of the bill, saying that the Senate has given law enforcement "these essential, additional tools to combat terrorism and safeguard America against future terrorist attacks."
"This important legislation respects our Constitution while allowing us to treat terrorist acts the same as serious drug crimes and organized crime, and strengthens our ability to share information to disrupt, weaken and eliminate global terrorist networks," the president's statement said, adding that he hopes he can sign the bill into law soon.
The major provisions of that compromise are:
-- Authorization of "roving wiretaps," so that law enforcement officials can get court orders to wiretap any phone a suspected terrorist would use. Current law requires a court order for each phone number, which most say is outdated with the advent of cellular and disposable phones.
-- Allows the federal government to detain non-U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism for up to seven days without specific charges. The administration originally wanted to hold them indefinitely.
-- Allows law enforcement officials greater subpoena power for e-mail records of terrorist suspects.
-- Relaxes restrictions on information sharing between U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officers about suspected terrorists. -- Makes it illegal to knowingly harbor a terrorist.
-- Triples the number of Border Patrol, Customs Service Inspectors and Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors at the northern border of the United States, and provides $100 million to improve technology and equipment on the U.S. border with Canada.
-- Expands current measures against money laundering by requiring additional record keeping and reports for certain transactions and requiring identification of account holders.
-- Eliminates the statute of limitations for prosecuting the most egregious terrorist acts, but maintains the statute of limitation on most crimes at five to eight years.
Citing concerns that the bill still infringes on Americans' civil liberties, Feingold offered three amendments to narrow the roving wiretap provision, limit law enforcement's access to workers' records after receiving permission from their employers, and to limit access to business records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
After an appeal by Senate majority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, to keep the process intact, the Senate voted to defeat all of Feingold's attempts to alter the legislation.
"We have come up with a delicate, but yes, successful compromise," said Daschle. "There is no question all 100 of us could go through this bill with a fine-tooth comb and cherry pick and find improvements... we've got a job to do, the clock is ticking and the work needs to get done."
Feingold expressed frustration that he was rebuffed and that the Senate was voting on process, not the merits of the issues on what he called the most important civil liberties legislation in a generation.
"Each of us cares as much as anyone in this room about the fight against terrorism, but we want to make sure we don't go beyond that goal and intrude on our civil liberties," he said.
Leahy said he was comfortable with the legislation because Democrats were able to change the administration's request enough to protect Americans' constitutional freedoms.
The Senate bill differs from a House version, which is expected to come up for a vote Friday. In the Senate version, the measures do not expire. The House bill "sunsets" the provisions -- or lets them lapse -- after two years.
In order to expedite sending the legislation to the president, senators and the administration were hoping the House GOP leadership would take up the Senate-passed version Friday, and were negotiating a compromise for a five year sunset provision even though the administration opposes any sunset of the new laws.
Senators also expressed concern that the House bill does not include any money laundering provisions, saying that following and seizing the money of suspects is essential to the war against terrorism.
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