The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives has passed, by a 337-79 vote, an anti-terrorism legislation similar to a bill approved by the Democratic-led Senate a day earlier. A joint conference committee will have to resolve differences in the two versions before a final bill is sent to President Bush for his signature.
The House measure, like the Senate bill, would expand the wiretapping authority of law enforcement, increase punishment for terrorists and impose stronger penalties on those who harbor terrorists.
Both bills would also allow the federal government to hold foreigners considered suspected terrorists for up to seven days before charging them with a crime or deporting them.
The House version differs from the Senate bill in several key respects. It does not contain a provision to strengthen money laundering laws, as the Senate version does. The House bill also calls for some of the wiretapping provisions to expire in 2004, although it gives the president the option of extending them another two years. There is no such measure in the Senate bill.
A rare alliance between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats called for the limits - known as 'sunset provisions' - out of concern the expanded powers could be abused in the future.
Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia declared: "I don't think this is a happy piece of legislation. It is not a happy set of circumstances that brings us to the point where we have to consider amending our criminal laws and criminal procedures. But I think it is important to pass this legislation, monitored very carefully and take seriously our responsibility to exercise the power we are granting in this sunset provision."
Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, went further, criticizing the bill for failing to address a number of civil liberties' concerns. "There is no provision ensuring that the government does not introduce information in a court obtained from illegal e-mail wiretaps," he said. "There is no provision limiting the sharing of sensitive law-enforcement information to inappropriate personnel. There is no provision protecting immigrants from being deported for donating money to humanitarian groups that they did not know might be financing terrorists."
Judiciary Committee Chairman, Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, argued the bill does protect rights, including the Constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure. "The bill does not violate the Constitution," he said. "It protects our vital fourth amendment rights and with a clear and present danger facing our country, I believe it is imperative that we act expeditiously."
Democrats accused Republican leaders of not allowing enough time for the bill to be studied and debated. Republicans argued there was no time to wait under continued terrorist threats.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Bush administration has been pressing Congress to pass anti-terrorism legislation.