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Antiterrorism bill gives authorities 'new tools'

By Terry Frieden

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hailing "new tools" to fight terrorism, President Bush signed into law Friday a measure that grants federal authorities expanded surveillance and intelligence-gathering powers.

On Thursday, both houses of Congress overwhelmingly passed the bill, crafted in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks and dubbed the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had lobbied hard for the legislation, said federal agents would immediately begin exercising their new capabilities.

The additional powers include the use of much more foreign intelligence information and expanded wiretapping authority. The bill also strengthens penalties for those who help terrorists and lengthens the statute of limitations for terrorist acts.

The legislation's supporters say it will help federal law enforcement agents prevent future terrorist attacks, rather than simply respond with prosecutions after the fact. But others have objected to provisions in the law that allow for longer detentions of suspected terrorists who are not U.S. citizens.

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Mindful of those criticisms, Bush insisted Friday that the bill protects, rather than erodes, civil liberties by increasing federal authorities' ability to prevent, rather than just respond to terrorist attacks.

"Today we take an essential step in defeating terrorism, while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans," the president said at the White House ceremony.

Later in the day, Bush called on Congress to tighten the pressure on terrorists around the world by implementing two treaties currently stalled in the Senate.

One treaty, called the "International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings," would require countries to prosecute or extradite any person within their jurisdiction involved in a terrorist bombing. The United States signed the treaty in January 1998 and sent it to the Senate in September 1999, but it has never been ratified.

The other treaty, called the "International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism," has been held up in the Senate for the past year. It would require countries to prosecute or extradite any individuals believed to be raising or collecting money to sponsor terrorist activities.

"I urge the prompt and favorable consideration of this proposal," Bush said in a letter, dated Thursday, to Congress.


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