House rushing through anti-terrorism legislation

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Police would be able to secretly search the homes of suspects, tap their phones and track their use of the Internet under anti-terrorism legislation moving toward final approval in the House.

House leaders said the bill will be voted on today, with the Senate expected to take it up later this week. The plan is to get it to President Bush for a possible Friday signing at the White House.

"This legislation is not perfect and the process is not one that all will embrace," said House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "However, these are difficult times that require steadfast leadership and an expeditious response. This legislation is desperately needed."

However, there may be a snag on the Senate side. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has threatened to block final approval in the Senate because of a compromise Senate negotiators made to get House approval.

The Senate fix would loosen the so-called McDade amendment, which prevents federal prosecutors from using investigative techniques such as wiretaps or undercover stings, that are disallowed under ethics rules crafted by state and local bar associations, although not barred by federal law.

Highlights of the anti-terrorism bill include:

  • Increases penalties for committing terrorism and for harboring or funding terrorists or terrorist organizations.

  • Makes terrorism a reason for federal officials to get a wiretapping order.

  • Allows federal officials to get a wiretapping order that would follow a suspect to any phone the person uses.

  • Allows federal officials to get nationwide search warrants for terrorism investigations.

  • Allows the attorney general to detain foreigners suspected of terrorism. The attorney general then has to start deportation proceedings, during which the foreigner must stay in federal custody, or charge the person with a crime. If neither is done within seven days, the foreigner must be released.

  • Makes illegal the possession of substances that can be used as biological or chemical weapons for any besides a "peaceful" purpose.

  • Adds a provision that allows people to sue if the government leaks information gained through the new wiretapping and surveillance powers.

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