- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

With the House and Senate expected to debate anti-terrorism legislation this week, lawmakers will need to think through the national security implications of any new changes to the Bush administration's proposal changes that could undercut reform. This is particularly true of members of the House Judiciary Committee, who voted last week to approve a compromise anti-terrorism bill. The legislation includes provisions increasing from two to seven days the amount of time that federal immigration officials can detain illegal aliens who are suspected terrorists without charging them with a violation of immigration law or a more serious crime. And it makes it somewhat easier to obtain information from Internet service providers about a suspect's e-mail messages.
Before approving the bill, however, committee members such as liberal Rep. John Conyers and conservative Rep. Bob Barr teamed up to remove or water down several administration-backed provisions that could have enhanced federal anti-terrorism efforts. To give an example of civil liberties "violations" contained in the administration's original proposal, Mr. Barr cited a provision, eliminated in committee, that would have allowed the use of foreign evidence if it was obtained in a manner deemed to violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unconstitutional search and seizure.
Since the 1960s, the federal courts have radically expanded their definition of Fourth Amendment protections well beyond anything envisioned by the framers of the Constitution; in essence, the courts have created something called the "exclusionary rule," which bars the state from using evidence (no matter how important it is to determining the actual guilt or innocence of the accused) if police make a technical mistake in acquiring it. The Bush administration rightly sought to strip this provision from current law in terrorism cases. The committee, regrettably, decided to perpetuate the questionable status quo. Letting criminals go free on technicalities hardly enhances Americans' civil liberties in any meaningful sense.
While the committee was right to extend from two to seven days the amount of time an illegal alien can be held before being charged with a crime, experts such as L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the National Commission on Terrorism, which issued a prescient report last year outlining America's vulnerability to terrorism, believe that seven days may not be enough time to determine whether or not to charge someone with a crime.
More important, however, are the problems that the Judiciary Committee bill fails to address. It does nothing to increase the number of INS investigators so that we can actually know if non-citizens are abiding by the terms of their visas. It does nothing to alter the bureaucratic stupidity of some Justice Department officials, who failed to permit the FBI to wiretap one suspected bin Laden associate here until after the Sept. 11 catastrophe. In short, the primary danger to Americans' civil liberties right now is not posed by government agents, but by terrorists seeking to carry out another deadly strike.

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