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Ashcroft wants tougher anti-terrorism laws

Attorney General John Ashcroft says there is a need to "upgrade and strengthen a number of laws."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller met Sunday with congressional leaders to discuss a proposal to give federal investigators broader powers.

Ashcroft said earlier he would ask Congress to rewrite some laws to enhance anti-terrorist efforts, including granting investigative agencies greater surveillance authority.

"It's clear to me that we need to upgrade and strengthen a number of laws in the United States," Ashcroft said.

For example, under current law a court authorizes a wiretap for a particular phone, not a person.

"It doesn't make sense" in an age when multiple phones are common, Ashcroft said. Wiretaps, he said, should be focused on individuals, not the hardware.

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The meeting with the congressional leaders was classified, but Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said they would act on the proposal very quickly.

"In a digital age, we are using analog technology from a legal standpoint," Hatch said. "We have to figure out how best to do this within the confines of the Constitution, and I think we can get that done.

Some privacy groups have quietly been raising concerns that the U.S. reaction to the terrorist assaults may lead to an erosion of civil liberties. They fear the Bush administration may seek broad new law enforcement powers that go beyond terrorism.

Hatch and Leahy said no one wants to trample on the Constitution.

"It doesn't do you any good to get convictions by violating the Constitution, because it's going to be overturned. You're going to lose all of you evidence and the person might get away. You do it right and you do it right the first time," Leahy said.

"I don't want a terrorist act to take away the Constitution for 260 million Americans."

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