Justice Dept. Eyes Expansion of Its Domestic Surveillance

by Curt Anderson
The Associated Press
February 8, 2003


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

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

Justice Department officials said no final decisions have been made on any such legislation, and it could change substantially before it is completed. Spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said the department is ''continually considering antiterrorism 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 said.

The original Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, gave the government broad new antiterrorism powers to use wiretaps, electronic and computer eavesdropping, searches, and the authority to obtain a wide range of other information in its 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 US 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.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

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