WASHINGTON – Senators wrapped up negotiations on an anti-terror bill late Wednesday night and hoped to send the bill to a floor vote early next week.
"These have been complex and difficult negotiations, but after much hard effort, we have completed work on this bipartisan agreement," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he has not seen the bill, but has heard that all parties are pleased with the outcome.
Attorney General John Ashcroft asked Congress for authority to investigate and detain individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. The 60-point bill, among other things, seeks to:
• Allow law enforcement authorities to obtain nationwide "pen register" and "trap-and-trace" orders that permit them to capture incoming or outgoing phone numbers from a particular telephone.
• Extend the amount of time a court order can be used to conduct physical searches from 45 to 90 days, and electronic surveillance from 90 days to one year.
• Place no limit on the length of time an alien suspected of terrorism can be detained without filing charges.
• Extend the roaming wiretap authority already in existence to multiple forms of communications, including the Internet.
• Allow authorities to use intelligence information from foreign sources that would have been illegally obtained under U.S. constitutional provisions.
The breakthrough in deliberations came one day after negotiators stalemated over rules governing the sharing of wiretap and grand jury information with intelligence agencies and executive branch authorities outside of law enforcement.
Other sticking points included the scope of the president's authority over trade sanctions, and law enforcement access to cable-television subscriber records and to student records, a sensitive issue among universities.
Leahy press secretary David Carle said he would not specify what agreements were made or how the issues were resolved, but said "work is proceeding well, and everybody around the table is optimistic that a bill will be finished soon."
Carle said that two contentious issues — the length of alien detention and expansion of wiretap authority to Internet users — are both addressed in the bill. He did not say how long an alien can be detained, only that it was different from the House version which allows seven-day detentions.
Easier Passage in House Likely
The House Judiciary Committee passed its version of the legislation late Wednesday night. Their draft would give Ashcroft much of what he requested, including enhanced surveillance of suspected terrorists, elimination of the statute of limitations for prosecuting terrorists, and greater ability for law enforcement to share information on suspected terrorist activity.
Some of the specifics include provisions giving the attorney general seven days to detain an alien before any charges are brought, tripling the number of border patrols in each state along the northern border, and allowing greater opportunity to share criminal information among the Justice Department, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The bill also broadens the definition of terrorist acts and stiffens penalties for suspected terrorists, as well as those who conspire to commit terrorist acts.
In response to concerns about possible breaches of civil liberties, there is a provision in the bill that increases penalties from at least $1,000 to at least $10,000 in cases where civil liberties have been violated.
Justice Department officials said they had concerns about sunset provisions in the House version that would force the Department to return to Congress in two years to request renewal of the law.