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U.S. House approves antiterrorism bill



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives passed legislation Friday afternoon that grants law enforcement agencies expanded powers to conduct counterterrorism efforts.

The House approval, by a vote of 337 to 79, came a day after the Senate passed its version of the antiterrorism bill, which has been backed by the Bush administration. The bill has drawn objections from civil liberties groups concerned about expanding law enforcement's power in areas such as wiretapping, searches, sharing information with other agencies and detaining individuals.

Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed Congress in recent weeks to adopt the package, calling the legislation -- first proposed by the Bush administration -- critical tools needed in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

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"Congress needs to send a message to terrorists that they will find no safe haven in America," Ashcroft said Friday, as the House was considering the bill. "They should not delay. We need these antiterrorism tools now."

GOP leaders in the Republican-controlled House put the Senate version of the bill up for consideration on the floor in order to speed final passage. In doing so, they abandoned a House version that had been approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee.

Still, there were some differences in the measures, meaning the two versions will have to be reconciled before the legislation can be sent to President Bush for his signature.

A key difference is that the House bill includes a sunset provision, which would cause some of the expanded powers to expire in 2006 -- a provision opposed by the White House.

But the Senate seems ready to accept the change, said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota).

"I would have loved to have seen a sunset in our bill," he said. "We weren't successful in that regard, but I'm quite sure we'll have a sunset before this bill reaches the president's desk."

Yet House Democrats vigorously debated against taking up the Senate's version of the bill instead of the previous House version that they had helped put together.

Many argued that the Senate's bill undid much of the bipartisan work of the House Judiciary Committee to ensure a balance between greater powers for law enforcement and the protection of civil liberties. Even the new sunset provision, some noted, is much longer than the two-year sunset included under the original House bill.

"We are trying to do something very delicate. We are trying to empower law enforcement and simultaneously put constraints on them," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts). "A bill that gives the full powers and weakens the constraints is an inadequate bill."

Republicans denied that the new bill trampled on civil rights, contending that the decision to take up a version more similar to the one approved in the Senate was intended to ensure a speedier approval in a time of urgency.

"The need to move carefully must be balanced with the need to move quickly," said Rep. Mark Green (R-Wisconsin). "We have deployed forces. We have been threatened with a jihad. We are still cleaning up the debris of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We must move quickly."

The legislation's major provisions include:

-- The authorization of "roving wiretaps," so that law enforcement officials can get court orders to tap any telephone that a suspected terrorist would use. Current law, enacted before the advent of cellular and disposable phones, requires a separate court order for each telephone.

-- Easing restrictions on information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence officers about suspected terrorists.

-- Tougher penalties for harboring terrorists.

-- Allowing the federal government to detain non-U.S. citizens for up to seven days

-- Giving law enforcement officials greater subpoena power for e-mail records of terrorist suspects.

The counterterrorism bill passed in the Senate late Thursday night by a margin of 96 to 1.

That version also included a provision expanding current measures against money laundering, which was not included in the bill passed by the House. On Friday, Daschle said the money laundering measure needs to be included in the package.

"You can't deal with counterterrorism if you don't deal with money laundering, and so to divorce the two is preposterous," Daschle told reporters. "We will not support a counterterrorism bill that does not have money laundering provisions in it."

Congressional leaders hope to work out the differences between the two bills in order to have a version on Bush's desk by next week.



 
 
 
 



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