With the threat of a long war looming, the heat is on lawmakers this week to make tough decisions about the degree to which laws surrounding surveillance – including Internet snooping – should be changed to aid in the fight against terrorism.
But the chairman of the Senates Committee on the Judiciary, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., warned last week that it could take “weeks and months” to hammer out language that his committee would find acceptable for consideration in the full Senate.
Thats a much slower time line than the Bush administration is urging. During the course of a little more than a week, the Department of Justice introduced legislation that, among other things, would make cybersurveillance easier, and both houses of Congress held hearings on the proposal last week. But neither took the fast action that President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Aschcroft were advocating last week.
“Technology has dramatically outpaced our statutes,” Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Law enforcement tools created decades ago were crafted for rotary phones – not e-mail or the Internet or mobile communications and voice-mail. Every day that passes . . . with outdated statutes and the old rules of engagement is a day that terrorists have a competitive advantage.”
Aschcroft also testified at a House Judiciary Committee meeting. But after members of both parties voiced concerns that his bill would infringe on a number of civil liberties, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., postponed a planned vote on the bill for at least a week.
Meanwhile, other members of Congress are introducing their own proposed remedies for pieces of the terrorism puzzle. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced legislation that would make it easier for authorities to get court approval to snoop on Internet communications, and Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, are considering bills to give authorities greater access to keys to unscramble private communications that are scrambled with encryption software.