American lawmakers break logjam on new anti­terrorism laws

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The Independent US

New authority wanted by President George W. Bush to wiretap and eavesdrop on suspected terrorists, including secret police searches of their homes and records, would expire in four years, according to congressional sources.

The White House had sought unfettered and permanent authority for so–called roving wiretaps to monitor telephone and computer communications of terrorism suspects no matter where they take place, but encountered stiff opposition from civil rights and privacy advocates in both parties.

House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday afternoon to the compromise sunset date of Jan. 1, 2005, for the expanded authority to expire, said four top congressional aides, all speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It's a done deal," said one GOP House aide. Three Senate aides, one Republican and two Democrats, confirmed the deal.

Before departing on a trip to Asia, Bush met Wednesday morning with leaders in both parties and urged them to come to a speedy agreement on anti–terrorism legislation containing the new law enforcement measures. The bill had been stalled for more than a month, primarily over the new electronic surveillance authority.

The GOP–controlled House originally wanted a three–year expiration date, and then changed it to five years after discussion with the White House. The Democrat–controlled Senate did not include any expiration date in its legislation but many Democrats said they supported the idea.

It was not immediately known when the bill would make it to the House and Senate floors. Because of the anthrax scare in the legislative buildings, the House will not be in session again until next Tuesday at the earliest.

There is also a disagreement on whether money laundering legislation should be included in the anti–terrorism package. The Senate version has such legislation in it. The House passed that legislation separately on Wednesday.

The aides said that portion of the bill was still being negotiated, but no resolution had been reached.

The anti–terrorism expiration date means that Congress will have to renew the wiretapping and electronic surveillance portion of the anti–terrorism package or they will expire.

Both the House and Senate anti–terrorism measures would expand the FBI's wiretapping authority, impose stronger penalties on those who harbor or finance terrorists and increase punishment of terrorists.

However, House leaders insisted on changing the Senate package to put an expiration deadline on the most intrusive of the new measures, including roving wiretaps.

"As long as they are temporary, we will get better cooperation from the agencies until such time as we look at the question: 'Do we give them complete authority?"' said House Majority Leader Richard Armey.

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