Members of the House of Representatives charged with overseeing the judiciary approved an array of new electronic surveillance powers late Wednesday evening. However, wary of trampling on civil liberties as the government has done during past national crises, lawmakers reined in the Bush administrations anti-terrorism requests and set the new powers to expire at the end of 2003.
The bill, which includes sections on detaining and deporting terrorist suspects, notifying subjects of search warrants, and sharing surveillance data between the law enforcement and intelligence communities, is slated for a vote on the House floor next week. It is unclear when the Senate will vote on its counterpart, but it is possible that the legislation could be approved and sent to President Bush by the end of next week.
The legislation would allow law enforcement to collect Internet transactional data under the low standard of judicial review required for capturing telephone numbers (with a pen register or trap and trace device), but it remains unclear how much information is included in transactional data. Some lawmakers and privacy advocates remain concerned that the new surveillance provisions may expose protected communications to the government. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said e-mail message lines and Web pages visited should not be available without a full court-issued order based on a showing of probable cause in an investigation.
Privacy advocates suggest that Internet transactional data should be limited to a host name, said James Dempsey, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. “The place to draw the line is between the host name and everything after the first slash,” he said.
The bill would allow law enforcement to intercept communications of computer trespassers in some circumstances if the network service provider authorizes the interception. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., expressed concern that the provision is too open-ended, and the committee chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., agreed to review it.
Lawmakers tried to minimize the financial impact the anti-terrorism legislation would have on network operators. The House panel added a provision last night to ensure that communications service providers would not be required to redesign their networks to comply with new surveillance capabilities. Although the communications industry has been a staunch ally of civil liberties groups in previous debates regarding expanded surveillance powers, they have been quiet in the current debate, privacy advocates said.
“ISPs [Internet service providers] need to be more visible, and they need to make their concerns known,” said Laura Murphy, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Theyve got to make their voices heard that they do not want to be agents of routine surveillance. Theres going to be greater demand for ISPs to cooperate with the federal government.”
The legislation would also allow law enforcement to apply for a single, nationwide order to use a pen register or trap and trace device.