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Patriot Act Enhancement Bill Advances Despite Concerns

Reuters | September 30 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican-led congressional committee on Wednesday rejected concerns about civil liberties and passed a bill to expand the U.S. government's power to track terror suspects and deport people seen as a risk.

On a largely party-line vote of 19-12, the House Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the full House of Representatives for expected approval next week.

But the House bill, which was drafted by Republicans, is certain to run into difficulties with a competing measure in the Senate written by both parties.

The measure is part of a sweeping legislative effort to overhaul the intelligence services in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Congress is pressing to respond to recommendations by the Sept. 11 commission and pass the legislation before the Nov. 2 elections.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, called the Republican bill "deeply flawed."

"This bill is a witches brew of extraneous anti-liberty proposals, long sought by (U.S. Attorney General) John Ashcroft and long discredited by the Congress," Conyers said.

Republicans insisted, despite Democratic claims to the contrary, that the bill mirrored the thinking of the 9/11 commission.

"This legislation reflects careful, thoughtful and principled examination of the 9/11 Commission's bipartisan report and its staff report, and provides additional tools and resources needed to fight and win the war on terror," said the committee chairman, James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican.

While the committee approved a few changes to the bill, it rejected numerous Democrats amendments. They included ones to roll back what critics denounced as excessive powers and anti-immigrant provisions, including some they charged would violate due process.

Some critics have argued that the House measure is an attempt to expand the Patriot Act, a sweeping anti-terror measure passed after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Judiciary Committee approved the bill the same day that a federal judge in New York ruled as unconstitutional surveillance powers granted to the FBI under the Patriot Act.

The challenge was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against what it called "unchecked power" to demand confidential customer records from communication companies.
Also on Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee voted 17-2 to approve portions of the intelligence reform effort within its jurisdiction. But some Republicans complained that reform was moving too quickly.

"Reform of the intelligence community should be undertaken, but it should be undertaken with great care," said Rep. James Gibbons, a Nevada Republican.

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