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New Anti-Terror Recommendations Could Diminish Civil Liberties - 2001-11-16

A New York State anti-terrorism committee is recommending tighter immigration procedures, national identity cards and close surveillance of private aviation as its top priorities in the effort to boost security in New York and the United States. The high-level panel says civil liberties may have to take a temporary back seat to public safety.

The New York State Senate's panel on terrorism was formed in the wake of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and brings together some of the top law enforcement officials in the nation.

The panel recommends the federal government impose tighter control on the issuance of visas to the United States and identify and monitor the activities of immigrants who are considered high risk. Committee member James Kallstrom is the head of New York State's anti-terrorism effort and a former director of the New York office of the FBI.

"For at least a decade, if not longer, we have let thousands and thousands of people into this country, which is a good thing," Mr. Kalstrom says. "But we have let them in not knowing who they are. And we must get a grip on who it is, who is coming in here and I do not think that defeats our larger goal of training the world, bringing in people who come in to share our economy. It is the logical thing to do and we must do it."

State Senator Roy Goodman headed a group that made similar recommendations after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He says the committee's recommendations at that time were never implemented. Now, he says, the state and federal governments have to take action, even if it means curtailing civil liberties.

"There are certain things which we are going to recommend which are not going to be popular because frankly they go against the grain of many of us who have a strong civil libertarian instinct," Senator Goodman says. "But we are now at war ladies and gentlemen and war requires a special type of vigilance."

The panel recommends creating a national system of universal identification cards with electronic chips that read digital fingerprints and photographs and retinal images.

The panel's members say private aviation is a glaring loophole in the nation's security. They say private airports and private airplanes must face tougher security requirements. And they recommend the federal government supervise security at all commercial airports, install security cameras in cockpits, and do background checks on all airport personnel.

Former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir says increased activity at airports in the last two months does not means increased security. "Our first recommendation is that we federalize airport security. It is the belief of the committee that this is a law enforcement function and it should be provided by a federal law enforcement agency," Commiissioner Safir says. "Along with that, we also believe that the site of that law enforcement agency should not be in the Federal Aviation Administration. I think it is important that it be either in the Department of Justice or another agency."

Mr. Safir is one of five former New York City police commissioners serving on the committee.