- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

Two senators are proposing a privacy commission that would examine new surveillance technology with the goal of balancing security and privacy concerns.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, say the commission won't have the power to prevent any technology from being used, but it would be a place to discuss the proper role for new machines and methods in the war on terrorism.

"Unfortunately, the administration seems to put out these broad dictates here's what we're going to do on this issue, here's what we're going to do on that issue, military tribunals, American citizens arrested as foreign combatants and then the discussion occurs," Mr. Schumer said. "It would be so much better for the country, for us and for the administration if the discussion would come first."

Commission members would be appointed by the president and Congress, and would mix law enforcement officials, privacy specialists and representatives from the technology and business world, the senators said. It would propose rules for implementing new technology and investigative strategies.

The senators hope to attach the provision as an amendment to an upcoming bill perhaps the proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security, which will be on the Senate floor after the August recess.

"When people hear about this, they'll vote for it," Mr. Schumer said. "I don't think this is partisan in any way."

Soon after September 11 President Bush signed into law a measure to give law enforcement broader wiretap powers and the ability to monitor Web sites, among other new investigative techniques.

But soon thereafter, some in Congress called for controls to make sure the new powers were balanced with privacy concerns. A coalition of liberal and conservative House members is pushing a bill to require the federal government to assess the effects of new regulations on individuals' privacy rights.

Both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Schumer yesterday said they see a role for the new investigative techniques and want law enforcement to be able to use the methods against identified terrorists. But they said it's critical to balance innocent individuals' rights.

Mr. Edwards was particularly concerned by a machine being tested at Orlando International Airport in Florida that civil liberties groups have called a "virtual strip search."

The machine, made by Rapiscan, uses low-level X-rays to conduct a full-body scan of a passenger. According to news reports, the machine can detect plastic knives hidden under clothing, but it also can clearly see the outline of a passenger's body.

One issue the commission would certainly face is how to implement monitoring networks like the series of cameras set up to record the July Fourth celebration in the District.

Mr. Schumer said the proposed commission would suggest criteria for camera placement, whether and how the public should be notified of the cameras, whether the cameras can be used to read lips and whether authorities can file reports on people they see associating with each other.

Mr. Schumer suggested such a commission during a committee hearing with Attorney General John Ashcroft last week, who said he would be open to discussing the idea.

"This is the kind of issue which I think a number of us feel might be worth discussing, and so I'd be happy to do that with you," he said.

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