WASHINGTON Fearful that the Bush administration
is poised to ask Congress for greater anti-terrorism powers, including the right to strip Americans of their citizenship,
liberals and conservatives are joining forces to block what they view as dangerous encroachments on civil liberties.
The loose-knit coalition was on display last
week when conservative activists who otherwise are close administration allies joined the American Civil Liberties Union to
decry the Justice Department's impending push for powers that could reach well beyond the USA Patriot Act, which Congress
raced to adopt in the dark, chaotic weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Possible outlines of what the Justice Department
is seeking in a bill dubbed "Son of Patriot" or "Patriot 2" have had privacy and civil-libertarian groups across the political
spectrum in an uproar since a draft was leaked in February.
Although Justice Department officials insist
the 86-page bill is a preliminary draft that bears little resemblance to what ultimately will be requested, some fear it's
a sign of things to come.
"Based on past history of various administrations,
when draft legislation such as the 'Son of Patriot' that we've been now seeing are first denied and then they surface where
there's smoke there's fire," said former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, a conservative Republican who is now an ACLU consultant.
"We are very worried that it will surface in some way relatively quickly."
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have
argued that the Justice Department should work with Congress to draft new anti-terrorism legislation rather than write it
The draft bill would grant federal law enforcement
sweeping new power to wiretap, detain and punish suspected terrorists while limiting court review and cloaking certain information
from the public. Among the most criticized proposals: the right to strip the citizenship of Americans who provide "material
support" to organizations designated terrorist groups.
"Everyone is concerned with protecting our
people and our society and our homeland," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "But everyone should
be equally concerned at the potential costs to our society and its very nature if we adopt measures that in retrospect would
be viewed as unwise."
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo
declined to discuss which parts of the leaked draft have been discarded and which remain viable.
"We're not going to discuss things that are
being deliberated right now," he said.
He dismissed criticism that lawmakers are
being cut out of the loop, saying Congress ultimately will decide whether to accept, reject or amend the package that will
be sent to Capitol Hill later this year.
The Patriot Act has been "an invaluable tool"
for terrorism prevention, Corallo said, adding that he thinks critics have misunderstood the law, which expanded wiretapping
and spying authority, lowered prohibitions on the sharing of intelligence with criminal investigators, and imposed restraints
on the public release of information.
"The Patriot Act actually strengthened constitutional
protections," he said.
That view is far from universally shared.
Librarians in some cities are hastening their
routine shredding of patrons' records because of Patriot Act provisions that allow the FBI to review records at libraries,
bookstores and other businesses.
A California dive shop owner objected when
the FBI sought lists of clients at his and other dive shops around the country, citing the possibility that a terrorist diver
could launch an attack by slipping unseen into a U.S. port.
And now, groups such as the Eagle Forum and
American Conservative Union are setting aside historic policy differences with liberal-leaning organizations such as the ACLU
and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to tackle a range of post-Sept. 11 actions they view as threats to freedoms.
Conservative groups historically have left
the defense of civil liberties to the ACLU, conservative activist Grover Norquist said. But, he added, "I'm not sure given
the Republican control of the House and the Senate and the government that we can count on our left-of-center friends to look
out for some of these issues."
The Patriot Act and its possible successor
aren't the liberal and conservative groups' only concerns. They fret about a data-mining program known as Total Information
Awareness being developed within the Pentagon; an airline passenger profiling system that could roll out later this year;
and other proposals.
Waters and others are voicing particular
dismay at reports that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, with administration backing, wants to make
permanent Patriot Act provisions that expire in 2005.
"I am very concerned at the idea of getting
rid of the (sunset provisions)," Norquist said.
Barr, the former congressman, said: "This
is particularly troubling because we have not yet had nearly the full opportunity that we ought to have to see how the Patriot
Act is working. This is a very, very complex piece of legislation."
© 2003 The Seattle Times Company