Bush signs anti-terror legislation
WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed an anti-terrorism bill Friday that gives police unprecedented ability to search, seize, detain or eavesdrop in their pursuit of possible terrorists. "This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war," he said.
Federal officials said they plan to use the new powers right away, prompting civil libertarians to voice anew their concerns that cherished American freedoms will be sacrificed in the interest of safety. The American Civil Liberties Union pledged to monitor police actions closely, and scheduled a meeting with FBI Director Robert Mueller.
"This bill goes light years beyond what is necessary to combat terrorism," said Laura Murphy, ACLU Washington director. "While we are ourselves concerned for the country's safety, we are also concerned by the attorney general's apparent gusto to implement certain provisions in the bill that threaten liberty." John Ashcroft, who pressed hard for the bill's passage, said Thursday he would use the new powers quickly.
Bush said the legislation "upholds and respects" personal freedoms protected by the Constitution. But given the magnitude of the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, the nation had little choice but to update surveillance procedures "written in the era of rotary telephones" to better combat today's sophisticated terrorists.
"We may never know what horrors our country was spared by the diligent and determined work of our police forces ... under the most trying conditions," Bush said. "They deserve our full support and every means of help that we can provide."
Lawmakers, concerned about possible abuse of power, put an expiration date on part of it. Unless Congress renews the anti-terrorism law before Dec. 31, 2005, the eavesdropping sections expire.
The president, an American flag pin on his lapel, signed the bill in an East Room ceremony along with Vice President Dick Cheney, homeland security director Tom Ridge, Mueller, CIA Director George Tenet and nine members of Congress.
Under the new law, the FBI has expanded wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority.