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Congress takes aim at our civil liberties

By Nicole Colson | August 5, 2005 | Page 16

HOUSE LAWMAKERS have decided to make the shredding of some civil liberties permanent. Last month, the House voted 257 to 171 to permanently extend 14 out of 16 provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that had been due to expire this year.

Among the provisions made permanent are those that allow searches without probable cause, so-called "sneak-and-peek" searches of people's homes and businesses without notification, increased monitoring of e-mail and Internet activity and more. While not made permanent, two other provisions--allowing the government to secure roving wire taps and to demand business, library and medical records--were extended for 10 more years.

Republicans refused to allow the full House to consider amendments that would have pared down the act slightly--by preventing the government from demanding library and bookstore records and forcing a reconsideration of some surveillance provisions in four years instead of 10.

Still, had the 43 House Democrats who voted in favor of extending the USA PATRIOT Act stood against it, the vote would have tied--and the legislation could not have moved forward.

Following the House vote, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales went on the offensive, telling CNN's Late Edition that that the Bush administration will "not accept changes that would in any way weaken the PATRIOT Act, that would make it more difficult to protect America against additional terrorist attacks."

If Gonzales and the Bush administration get their way, the USA PATRIOT Act will end up even worse than this latest version passed by the House. In the Senate, several competing versions of the law are up for consideration, including one passed last month by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would actually broaden the government's powers under the act--by allowing the FBI to demand records in terrorism investigations without a judge's order.

In the meantime, as an editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune commented, "If it is true that the terrorists of the world hate the United States because of our freedom, then the U.S. House of Representatives has done its part to see to it that the terrorists will hate us a little less."

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