A privacy watchdog group on Tuesday ripped the latest draft of the Bush administrations anti-terror bill as vague and warned that the broad powers it grants the law enforcement community could lead to another Watergate.
Officials from the Center for Democracy and Technology said the bill gives the government and law enforcement officials too much flexibility in monitoring computer and other electronic communications and provides far too broad a definition of terrorism.
The bill is just one of several making their way through the House of Representatives and Senate. One of the other proposed measures, drafted by the House Judiciary Committee, is supposed to represent a compromise after privacy advocates and civil rights groups complained about the sweeping nature of the powers being granted to the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
A separate bill drafted by the Department of Justice is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But it is the administrations proposal that is drawing the most flak, despite some efforts to soften its language.
“The changes are relatively small, and some very major issues remain to be solved before it can be said that this isnt opening the Internet up to surveillance,” said Jerry Berman, executive director of the CDT, based in Washington. “The dangers of getting it wrong are significantly high in such a process. The normal processes are not taking place.”
The CDTs main criticism of the bill is that it makes little distinction between intelligence agencies and police agencies as far as the new wiretap provision goes. The group is concerned that the FBI and other agencies would be able to apply for a wiretap on a U.S. citizen under foreign intelligence rules.
“This mingling of intelligence and law enforcement will lead to a slide … and people could use these vague authorizations for secret intelligence and it could get seriously out of hand,” said Berman, who is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.