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Checks and Balances Erode...Make Way For Tyranny
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Checks and Balances Erode...Make Way For Tyranny

Ashcroft wants more surveillance of Americans, less judicial review
By CHB Staff and Wire Reports
Feb 9, 2003, 08:31

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In what some fear is yet another encroachment upon privacy and the lives of Americans, Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to expand the 2001 Patriot Act to increase surveillance of American citizens while restricting access to information and limiting judicial review of its activities.

Attorney General Ashcroft
REUTERS/William Philpott
The Center for Public Integrity says it has obtained a copy of the draft legislation from a government source. The document, labeled "confidential," is posted on the organization's Internet site along with an analysis.

While the Justice Department officials says no final decisions have been made on any such legislation, spokeswoman Barbara Comstock acknowledged the department is "continually considering anti-terrorism measures and would be derelict if we were not doing so."

Comstock, however, lied when asked about the draft, saying it was "internal only" and had not been sent to the Hill. Sources for both Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, however, confirmed Friday they do have a copy of the draft and a January 10, 2003 "control sheet" for the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs confirms the draft was sent to both House and Senate Leadership.

The original Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, gave the government broad new anti-terrorism powers to use wiretaps, electronic and computer eavesdropping, searches and the authority to obtain a wide range of other information in it's investigations. It also broke down the traditional wall between FBI investigators and intelligence agents.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the draft expansion of the Patriot Act would be called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003.

Among other things, it would prohibit disclosure of information regarding people detained as terrorist suspects and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from distributing "worst-case scenario" information to the public about a nearby private company's use of chemicals.

In addition, the measure would create a DNA database of "suspected terrorists;" force suspects to prove why they should be released on bail, rather than have the prosecution prove why they should be held; and allow the deportation of U.S. citizens who become members of or help terrorist groups.

"It really is a broadening and a deepening of the government's powers," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

Dr. David Cole, Georgetown University Law professor and author of Terrorism and the Constitution, reviewed the draft legislation and says it “raises a lot of serious concerns. It’s troubling that they have gotten this far along and they’ve been telling people there is nothing in the works.”

The proposed law, he adds, “would radically expand law enforcement and intelligence gathering authorities, reduce or eliminate judicial oversight over surveillance, authorize secret arrests, create a DNA database based on unchecked executive ‘suspicion,’ create new death penalties, and even seek to take American citizenship away from persons who belong to or support disfavored political groups.”

Congressional aides said they had not been consulted by the Justice Department on the development of such a bill. However, several aides have said they considered it likely that the Bush administration would propose some changes this year.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the legislation "turns the Bill of Rights completely on its head."

"This draft bill constitutes yet another egregious blow to our citizens' civil liberties," Conyers said. "Among other things, the Bush administration now wants to imprison suspects before they are tried and create DNA databases of lawful residents who have committed no crime."


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