Terrorism Bill Will Require Vigilant Congressional Oversight, Monitoring By Civil Liberties Advocates

The anti-terrorism bill passed by the House of Representatives includes some improvements in the draconian legislation initially proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft, but still includes contains that create the potential for serious violations of Americans’ civil liberties, said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas.

Neas said action by House leaders earlier this month to prevent a floor vote on a bipartisan bill approved by a unanimous House Judiciary Committee had been "a major setback in the effort to strike a more reasonable balance between national security and civil liberties." The bill agreed to by House and Senate leaders this week is closer to the administration’s original proposal.

Some improvements urged by civil liberties advocates across a wide ideological spectrum did make it into the final bill, said Neas, who called the four-year sunset on some surveillance provisions "an important check on potential abuse."

Neas said it would be vital for congressional committees to commit themselves to effective oversight of the expanded surveillance and detention powers contained in the bill, and said that public interest advocates would engage in their own monitoring.

"People For the American Way will work with our allies to monitor the implementation of these new measures," said Neas. "We will not hesitate to seek congressional action even before the end of the four-year sunset provision if there is evidence of abuse."

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