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Patriot Act II.

Byline: The Register-Guard

SINCE SEPT. 11, Americans have fully understood the need to remain vigilant against terrorism. Regardless of political affiliation, they also understand the need to preserve the civil liberties that make this a free nation - and one worth protecting.

It's not surprising, then, that many liberals and conservatives were alarmed last week to learn that the U.S. Justice Department has been secretly crafting legislation that would increase the already excessive law enforcement powers that the U.S.A. Patriot Act gave it in 2001.

Under a draft proposal called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, the federal government would be authorized to expand surveillance powers and secretly arrest and detain U.S. citizens; to create a DNA bank of suspected terrorists; to invalidate state consent decrees seeking to restrict police spying, and to stop Freedom of Information Act efforts to get information about detainees. In some cases, Americans could be stripped of their citizenship for belonging to groups deemed terrorist fronts.

If approved by Congress, the result would be a government with broadly expanded powers to spy on, detain and harass American citizens, all in the ostensible interest of preventing future terrorist attacks.

Americans on both the right and left should pause to reflect about what such legislation would mean. More secret arrests. More powers to spy. More civil liberties taken away in the name of national security. More gruffly paternal assurances, like the one this week from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who said the government is merely "securing the freedoms of America and sustaining the liberty, the tolerance, the human dignity that America represents."

This is a disturbing development, one that should send alarms jangling in the sleepy halls of Congress. The Bush administration already has demonstrated its eagerness to use the threat of terrorism to expand the government's powers to intrude on the lives of U.S. citizens at levels unprecedented in recent history.

It's even more disturbing that Justice Department officials have denied to members of Congress, including ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that they were drafting another anti-terrorism package. Late last year in Washington, D.C., senior members of the Justice Department told a gathering of editorial page writers, including a representative from this newspaper, that there were no plans for a sequel to the Patriot Act.

When the Domestic Security Enhancement Act comes before Congress, lawmakers should refuse to be stampeded, as they were in the deliberations - if one can use even that word - over the original Patriot Act.

Justice officials have not only kept Congress in the dark about the existence of the new legislation, they also have refused to provide information on how the 2001 law is working. Such an arrogant refusal to cooperate should be a showstopper for Congress. The lack of knowledge on how the existing law is - or isn't - working makes it impossible to determine what, if any, new government powers are needed to safeguard the country against terrorism.

If there is going to be a "Son of Patriot Act," the Justice Department should throw open the doors and windows and let the sun shine on its preparations. As Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this week: "If there is going to be a sequel to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, the process of writing it should be open and accountable. It should not be shrouded in secrecy, steeped in unilateralism or tinged with partisanship."

The early signs from the Bush administration about this legislation are hardly reassuring. The Justice Department should stop plotting in secrecy, and Congress should find the backbone necessary to make certain this nation remains both safe and free.
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Title Annotation:Justice Department secretly planning a sequel; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 13, 2003
Words:617
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