US Congress Debates Anti-Terror Law

Debate continues between the Bush administration and opposition Democrats over the controversial anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act. 

The Patriot Act was passed by the Congress just weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks.  The act gave law enforcement agencies enhanced powers to investigate suspected terrorists inside the United States and made it easier for intelligence agencies to share sensitive information with domestic law enforcement.

Portions of the law are due to expire at the end of this year and the congressional debate over whether to renew them is intensifying.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate sub committee (on appropriations) the Patriot Act has become an essential tool in protecting the United States from terrorists.

"The ability to share information between the intelligence community and the law enforcement community has been instrumental in securing the safety of United States citizens, both in the United States and overseas, and allowing us to share information between our various agencies and also with our counterparts overseas," said Mr. Mueller.

But critics of the act are pressing for changes that would curtail some government investigative powers that they feel are too intrusive.

Even lawmakers who supported the Patriot Act when it was passed four-years ago say some changes may be needed.  Senator Byron Dorgan is a Democrat from North Dakota.

"It was passed very quickly post-9/11,” he noted.  “I do not think those of us in the Congress believe that we ought to get rid of the Patriot Act wholesale at this point.  But there may need to be some adjustments in the Patriot Act."

Other lawmakers are pushing for an expansion of the investigative powers under the Patriot Act when the law comes up for renewal.

One proposal before the Senate Intelligence Committee would give the FBI the ability to seize personal and business records in terrorism investigations without seeking permission from a judge.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the idea as an unnecessary invasion of privacy and are trying to enlist support from liberals and conservatives alike concerned with civil-liberties issues.

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