- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Protecting the twin towers of personal liberties and domestic security is the most challenging task the nation faces, lawmakers and others across the ideological spectrum say.
"It is key balancing act we have to engage in as a nation right now," said Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican. "It would be very easy to forget about personal liberties and worry only about the national security. I don't want to do that."
Rep. Brad Carson, Oklahoma Democrat, warned against making the Constitution "the first casualty" of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
As part of the unfolding war on terrorism that President Bush has declared, Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft yesterday made public several proposed changes in laws that protect personal freedoms but that also may inhibit the government's ability to keep tabs on terrorism suspects.
One proposal would give the government power to seek legal permission for eavesdropping on phone calls made by an individual on any telephone he may be using at any moment and in any jurisdiction.
Other Ashcroft proposals would eliminate the statute of limitations on terrorism, increase penalties for harboring terrorists and punish the financing of terrorists under money-laundering statutes.
But some conservatives immediately expressed reservations.
"Allowing wiretaps on any phone is a significant extension of wiretap authority," said Gary Kreep, executive director of the California-based U.S. Justice Foundation, a conservative legal action organization.
"The argument is that everyone has cell phones and can switch to anyone of a dozen or more. There is a logic to that, but I would be concerned unless there are some restrictions and restraints," Mr. Kreep said.
"They want to completely restructure our criminal laws, give themselves further prosecutorial tools we don't even know what they are and they want to ram this all through without even having hearings," Mr. Barr, himself a former federal prosecutor, said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Kreep warned that law enforcers, under intense pressure to head off future attacks, can name anyone as a suspect. "We all want to find the perpetrators of this tragedy and prevent any future tragedies, but we do have to be concerned about what new laws might do to infringe on our freedoms."
Getting the right balance between the freedoms that make America great and easing the way for federal and state authorities to nail enemies of those freedoms has always been difficult, particularly in the aftermath of terrorist incidents. Sometimes the government, pressured to respond, does things that ordinary citizens and common sense regard as just plain stupid.
"We have to watch out for the governmental bureaucratic illogic that says, 'We have to do something, this is something, so we have to do this," former National Security Agency general counsel Stewart Baker said in an interview.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, has said some post-Oklahoma bombing measures fell into that category. "I just don't think making traffic tougher in D.C. is going to help," he said.
"If we were going to be absolutely safe," Rep. Frank D. Lucas, Oklahoma Republican, "we'd have to restrict people's freedoms to the point that it wouldn't be America anymore."
Mr. Bush, his Cabinet officers, most members of Congress and elected officials at state and local levels have been careful since Tuesday's terrorist attack to affirm a need to preserve liberty while enhancing security.
In announcing the recommendations of a congressionally chartered anti-terrorism commission Monday, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, stressed "the paramount importance of preserving our citizens' constitutional rights and civil liberties."
"We can meet this terrorist threat without trampling the Constitution, here or at home," said Mr. Gilmore, the chairman of the commission. "In fact, the goal of the enemy would have us trample our constitutional rights. We don't have to do that."
Mr. Gilmore emphasized that the elected leaders or the nation's intelligence and law-enforcement leaders "should never ask the people of the United States to give up their freedoms because of an attack like this."

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