Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003

Expansion of Patriot Act Criticized Sat Feb 8, 6:33 AM ET

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is preparing to expand the 2001 Patriot Act to increase surveillance within the United States while restricting access to information and limiting judicial review, a nonprofit government watchdog group asserted Friday.  

The Center for Public Integrity said it obtained a copy of the draft legislation from a government source. The document, labeled "confidential," was posted Friday on the organization's Internet site along with an analysis.

Justice Department officials said no final decisions have made on any such legislation, and it could change substantially before it is completed. Spokeswoman Barbara Comstock acknowledged the department is "continually considering anti-terrorism measures and would be derelict if we were not doing so."

"The department's deliberations are always undertaken with the strongest commitment to our Constitution and civil liberties," she added.

The original Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, gave the government broad new anti-terrorism powers to use wiretaps, electronic and computer eavesdropping, searches and the authority to obtain a wide range of other information in it's investigations. It also broke down the traditional wall between FBI investigators and intelligence agents.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the draft expansion of the Patriot Act would be called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003.

Among other things, it would prohibit disclosure of information regarding people detained as terrorist suspects and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from distributing "worst-case scenario" information to the public about a nearby private company's use of chemicals.

In addition, the measure would create a DNA database of "suspected terrorists;" force suspects to prove why they should be released on bail, rather than have the prosecution prove why they should be held; and allow the deportation of U.S. citizens who become members of or help terrorist groups.

"It really is a broadening and a deepening of the government's powers," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

Congressional aides said they had not been consulted by the Justice Department on the development of such a bill and department officials say it has not been transmitted to Capitol Hill. However, several aids have said they considered it likely that the Bush administration would propose some changes this year.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the legislation "turns the Bill of Rights completely on its head."

"This draft bill constitutes yet another egregious blow to our citizens' civil liberties," Conyers said. "Among other things, the Bush administration now wants to imprison suspects before they are tried and create DNA databases of lawful residents who have committed no crime."

Associated Press writer Jesse Holland contributed to this report.

On the Net: Center for Public Integrity:

Justice Department:

PO Box 744, Tucson, AZ 85702-0744 - U$A

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