Patriot Act becomes campaign issue

Bush, Kerry propose sharply different changes to 2001 anti-terrorism law

April 21, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The USA Patriot Act, enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to bolster homeland defense, emerged yesterday as a presidential campaign issue, with President Bush and Sen. John Kerry jockeying over rival efforts to change the law.

Both candidates claimed their competing proposals would "strengthen" the landmark anti-terrorism legislation that swept through Congress with bipartisan support six weeks after the catastrophic attacks in 2001. The measure cleared the House on a 357-66 vote and the Senate on a vote of 96-1.

But Bush and Kerry differed sharply on how they would change the law, which a recent Newsweek magazine poll shows is supported by the public by a margin of 57 percent to 34 percent.

With most provisions of the Patriot Act scheduled to expire at the end of next year, Bush told supporters at a campaign appearance in Buffalo, N.Y., that he favored extending the law and called for new authority for nonjudicial administrative subpoenas and greater judicial authority to order suspected terrorists held indefinitely without bail.

Kerry called for an end to federal authority to surreptitiously monitor public library use, Internet traffic and e-mail correspondence of ordinary people as part of efforts to track potential terrorists.

Kerry also would:

Expand money-laundering provisions to include non-bank financial institutions such as hedge funds and unregulated financial operations.

Require more federal information sharing by immediately giving 18,000 state, county and local law enforcement agencies access to 58 national lists of terrorist suspects and creating 24-hour operations centers in each state.

Consolidate U.S. intelligence gathering under a director of national intelligence who would oversee the budgets, and the hiring and firing of personnel, across more than a dozen U.S. intelligence agencies.

Bush delivered his remarks in Buffalo to highlight the administration's successful prosecution of six Yemenis from nearby Lackawanna, N.Y. The suspects pleaded guilty to federal charges of supporting terrorism after briefly attending al-Qaida terrorist training camps in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush tried to dampen civil liberties concerns over some provisions of the law by likening court-ordered roving wiretaps on suspected terrorists' cellular phones to federal authority to track drug lords.

The president equated so-called "sneak-and-peek" searches under court-ordered "delayed notification" search warrants to a long-standing FBI tool used against suspected mobsters.

"It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland because we value the Constitution," Bush said.

Kerry said he had supported the Patriot Act in the Senate in part because of the "sunset" provisions that make the law expire Dec. 31, 2005.

Campaign spokesman Phil Singer said Kerry supports 95 percent of the 140 provisions in the Patriot Act and favors "improving some provisions to make it more effective."

Kerry, contending the Patriot Act did not solve the problem of information sharing, urged greater efforts by federal authorities to keep local officials updated.

"The federal government does not adequately share information with local law enforcement to keep us safe," he said in a statement.

Kerry's support for renewal of the Patriot Act with some changes contrasts with his call during the Democratic primary campaign to replace the act "with a new law that protects our people and our liberties."

In a Dec. 1 address at Iowa State University, Kerry said he welcomed "good ideas" within the Patriot Act that increased penalties for convicted terrorists, extended the statute of limitations for terrorist crimes and granted federal authorities greater power to prosecute overseas terrorist acts against Americans.

But he claimed that Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft had "shown a pattern of abusing our civil liberties" in the name of counterterrorism, adding: "They have used the Patriot Act in ways that were never intended and for reasons that have nothing to do with terrorism."

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