The U.S. Senate, by a 98 to one vote, has given final approval to a bill expanding the authority of law enforcement to crack down on terrorists. The measure, which was passed by the House a day earlier, now goes to President Bush for his expected signature.
The bill expands law enforcement's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority and imposes stronger penalties for harboring and financing terrorists.
President Bush had requested the legislation shortly after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, declared, "On September 11, almost 6,000 people lost their lives and they lost their civil liberties. It is our job to make sure nobody loses their lives or their civil liberties. We worked very hard to get a balanced bill that literally does protect civil liberties, works within the framework of the Constitution, and yet gives law enforcement the tools that they have not had for years, that they never had."
The bill is a compromise between House and Senate versions of the legislation, and its provisions are weaker than those sought by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Under the final bill, the wiretapping and electronic surveillance provisions are to expire after four years. Some lawmakers had demanded the so-called 'sunset clause,' fearing that such expanded powers could be abused in the future.
One of the most controversial aspects of the original legislation was a plan that would have allowed the attorney general to indefinitely detain any illegal immigrant suspected of terrorism. House and Senate negotiators imposed safeguards on the proposal by forcing the attorney general to immediately begin deportation procedures, charge the person with a crime, or release the suspect in seven days.
Judiciary Committee chairman, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont, is happy with the compromise. "We wanted a bill that said we are going to be a safer nation, we are going to be a more secure nation, we are going to be nation protecting its liberty. We've done that," he said.
But Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, the only senator to vote against the bill, believes the legislation does not go far enough in protecting civil liberties. "There is ample reason for concern, and I have been somewhat troubled over the past six weeks by the potential loss of commitment in the Congress and in the country to traditional civil liberties," he said.
One senator did not vote on the bill, Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.