John Ashcroft's First Year as Attorney General

Changes Made to the Ashcroft Proposal by Congress

Regrettably, in part because of Ashcroft's intimidation tactics, most of the measures proposed by Ashcroft were enacted into law, though Congress did make some modifications to his original proposal.

The final legislation removed the provision that would have allowed the Justice Department to detain non-citizens for an indefinite time period without charging them with any crime and instead required that detainees be charged within seven days or released. Members of Congress also inserted language that attempts to limit the ability of the government to use "pen register" type surveillance authority to intercept the content of Internet communications and to limit potential abuse of FISA surveillance authority.

Congress also added a much-needed measure of judicial oversight to the section governing surveillance and to limit the increased access to student information to the attorney general or assistant attorney general rather than to any employee of the Justice Department. In addition, Congress eliminated the proposal to permit the use of evidence collected by foreign governments that would not be admissible in U.S. courts.

Perhaps most important were the "sunset" provisions that will cause some sections of the bill dealing with expanded wiretapping powers and limiting some areas of judicial oversight to expire in four years. Ashcroft strenuously opposed any sunset provisions.33

Although Congress made significant improvements in Ashcroft's original proposal, the lack of a truly deliberative process has resulted in a law that threatens constitutional liberties and requires heightened vigilance by Congress and the American public.

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious