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Bipartisan Lawmakers Demand Changes in Anti-Terror Law

A bipartisan group of Senators is threatening to block renewal of an anti-terrorism law unless changes are made to extend greater protections to civil liberties.

The Patriot Act was enacted after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to expand the federal government's authority to track suspected terrorists.

Republican-led House and Senate negotiators this week agreed to extend or make permanent key provisions that are to expire at the end of the year, including those dealing with wiretaps, access to personal records and Internet surveillance.

But in doing so, they dropped Senate approved language aimed at protecting civil liberties. Among the Senate provisions dropped is one requiring the government to convince a judge that records sought have a connection to a terrorism suspect.

Another calls on the government to more quickly advise people after their homes or businesses are searched under a so-called sneak and peek warrant, which allows police to conduct secret searches of private homes and businesses and inform the owners later.

Senator Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, drafted those Senate provisions, and he is not happy that they were dropped in the compromise legislation.

"On issues as important as the civil liberties of fellow American citizens, you review it and review it on a constant basis, no matter who is in the White House, or who is in the Justice Department. It is fundamental to the strength and character of our country," said Mr. Craig.

Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, was the only Senator to oppose the Patriot Act in 2001, and he remains concerned about the compromise legislation.

"The time was not taken to make sure that various key provisions were correctly drafted," said Senator Feingold. "It has caused a great deal of concern across the country and in both political parties. It is time to get it right."

Under the compromise legislation, provisions dealing with wiretapping authority and obtaining business records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would expire in seven years.

Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants the so-called sunset provision to expire in four years.

"The key sticking point as I see it is the sunset provision," Senator Specter said. "The House wanted 10 years, the Senate bill provided for four, and not surprisingly some of the conferees wanted to put it at seven, right in between. In my view that is not correct. There ought to be a four-year sunset so we can review it again in a reasonably timely fashion."

Senator Specter says he is working to try to change the compromise legislation before it reaches the Senate floor.

Mr. Specter has support among some in the House of Representatives. "I did not come to Washington to expand the police powers of the federal government. I came here to limit government and expand individual freedom," said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California.

The House and Senate must approve the legislation before it is sent to President Bush for his signature.

Lawmakers are to begin a two-week recess shortly. Mr. Specter says he hopes a more acceptable bill can be drafted by the middle of next month when lawmakers briefly return to complete legislative work for the year.