House passes its antiterrorism bill

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Friday to approve new antiterrorism legislation that gives U.S. law enforcement agencies expanded rights to snoop on electronic and voice communications.

Ditching part of its original legislation drafted by the House Judiciary Committee, the House instead passed a bill that incorporates a number of provisions pulled directly out of a separate antiterrorism bill that was approved by the Senate late Thursday. The House bill passed 337-79 with no amendments.

The House PATRIOT Act (Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act), originally labeled H.R. 2975, emerged from a heated debate Friday as H.R. 3108. The new legislation is a compromise bill devised during a night of closed-door conferences between ranking House and Senate members. H.R. 3108 comes void of some key features originally included in the PATRIOT Act, according to one House staffer familiar with the bills.

One of those includes a change in "sunset," or expiration, dates. In the new House bill, several statutes would expire in five years instead of two. The Bush administration had been hoping for no sunset date.

The PATRIOT Act now moves on to the Senate. That body is expected to meet Monday for discussion. The Senate Tuesday night voted 96-1 in favor of its USA Act (Uniting and Strengthening America Act), or S. 1510. The Senate now could either pass the House version with no amendments and send the bill directly to President Bush's desk, or call a conference with the full Congress to iron out a final bill.

Both bills give law enforcement agencies greater authority to tap fixed-line phones, cell phones, e-mail and Internet surfing, and share that information among agencies. They also allow authorities to detain non-U.S. citizens for extended periods of time.

Information on the House of Representatives can be found online at http://www.house.gov/. Information on the Senate is online at http://www.senate.gov.

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Matt Berger

Computerworld

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