President could sign counterterrorism bill tomorrow

President could sign counterterrorism bill tomorrow

The Senate today overwhelmingly passed a counterterrorism bill expanding governmental powers of wiretapping and electronic surveillance.

HR 3162 received only one dissenting vote in the Senate after being approved by a five-to-one margin in the same form yesterday by the House of Representatives. The president could sign it into law as early as tomorrow.

The bill gives government agencies greater latitude in eavesdropping on suspected terrorists. But it sets reporting requirements to provide some accountability in the Justice Department's monitoring of e-mail and other Internet communications. Investigators must report to a federal judge the data obtained by DCS1000 devices, formerly known as Carnivore.

Law enforcement organizations, for example, can get a court order to tap all phones used by a suspect, not just personal phones, and also to seize voice mail. They can obtain orders for similar surveillance and recovery of target e-mail messages from Internet service providers, as well as for tracking Internet use. Investigators' power to copy data surreptitiously from a suspect's computer likewise increases.

Because the DCS1000 can gather all addresses with which a suspect exchanges messages and can capture more data than is covered in a court order, investigators must report what was collected within 30 days of the court order's expiration. Such reports will remain secret but could be used by judges to determine admissibility of evidence. The reporting requirement was inserted by House majority leader Richard K. Armey (R-Texas).

The wiretapping and surveillance provisions of the bill expire in four years, but the reporting requirement for Internet data gathering does not.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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