On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a rewritten version of the anti-terrorism bill that reconciles differences between the separate measures already approved by both chambers of Congress. This final version is expected to be put to a U.S. Senate vote on Wednesday or Thursday, according to a spokesman for Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont.
"The bill that we have brought back to the House and the Senate is a far better bill than proposed to us by the Administration and a better bill than either body passed initially," said Leahy in a statement issued Tuesday night. This bill includes provisions for strengthening security along the U.S.-Canadian border and will boost the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's ability to hire translators, Leahy said.
Anti-terrorism bills have already passed both chambers -- the Senate voted on the Uniting and Strengthening America Act, S. 1510, on Oct. 11. The next day the House passed its Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, H.R. 2975.
House and Senate leaders met last week to work out the differences between the two, and Thursday agreed upon a final version of the bill. If it passes through the Senate and is signed by President Bush, the bill will make it easier for investigators to wiretap communications of suspected terrorists, to monitor Internet and e-mail usage of suspects if proven relevant to an investigation, and to allow for information sharing among investigators and anti-terrorism officials, according to published reports.
A four-year "sunset" provision was included in this final version, which means that certain powers granted to law-enforcement agencies, such as more liberal use of wiretaps, will expire after four years, according to Leahy. There was no expiration date on changes in the law regarding wiretapping in the original proposal that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft made to Congress regarding anti-terrorism legislative action last month.
"We have included a four-year sunset provision that will go hand-in-hand with the close congressional oversight that will be crucial in making sure that these new law enforcement powers are not abused," Leahy said.