Legislators back giving police tools for battle

Thursday, September 20, 2001

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is pushing a broad anti-terrorist legislative package he thinks will help bring the perpetrators in last week's attack to justice, but the less-stringent laws have caused alarm for some who feel the proposal is a flagrant violation of civil liberties.

Meanwhile, Missouri's Congressional delegation says that law enforcement should have all the help it can get to combat terrorism and catch those responsible for the attacks in Washington and New York on Sept. 11.

"This is only about finding suspected terrorists," said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau. "I think we have to relax some of these laws, and I think we can do that without trampling on civil liberties."

U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan supports in principle some changes in the law, said her spokesman Dan Leistikow.

"Sen. Carnahan supports the goal of giving our law enforcement officers the tools they need to combat terrorism and to bring the criminals to justice," Leistikow said.

U.S. Sen. Christopher Bond did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Wiretap proposal

The proposal, called the "Mobilization Against Terrorism Act," has not been introduced into Congress, but Ashcroft has said several times he wants to change federal wiretap laws so officials may follow a person's conversation from phone to phone.

He said that law enforcement now must ask a judge for permission to eavesdrop every time a suspect switches phones or changes jurisdictions, which has become increasingly difficult with the popularity of cellular phones.

"One of the problems that many of our wiretapping laws were written at times that cell phones didn't exist, back when terrorism on U.S. soil seemed totally inconceivable," Leistikow said. "Since Tuesday, times have changed."

The legislation, expected to be introduced as early as today, would also allow the attorney general to lock up foreigners considered to be terrorist suspects and order them deported without presenting evidence. The only chance for appeal would take place when a suspect was facing removal from the country.

Emerson said this is not something law-abiding citizens should be worrying about.

"We're not talking about every American, we're talking about suspected terrorists, not about my mother-in-law," she said Wednesday, visiting Cape Girardeau in part to address a media class at Southeast Missouri State University.

Skeptical of plan

Mary Nall, 52, of Marble Hill, said she is dubious.

"I am always concerned when the government tries to sneak in and pass laws that never go away," she said, saying she was a Libertarian.

She said just because the country is seeking criminals doesn't make it all right.

"It wouldn't make any difference what the circumstances are, if you're infringing on their rights by being able to get into their private conversations without a warrant, then the whole system is a sham," she said. "If the Justice Department has any inclination, they should go through the proper process and get a warrant."

Nall is not alone with her concern. Matt LeMieux, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, said he planned to participate in a conference call with ACLU officials in Washington about the Justice Department's legislation.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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