March 17, 2003 6:24 PM PST

Diverse groups oppose security proposal

WASHINGTON--A broad coalition of nearly 70 groups is attempting to block a Bush administration proposal that would grant police more surveillance authority and sweeping powers to target computer crime and terrorist activities.

In a letter sent to Congress on Monday, the coalition urges politicians to oppose draft legislation prepared by the U.S. Justice Department and called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA). Critics have dubbed it the USA Patriot Act II, a reference to the 2001 law expanding eavesdropping powers that Congress speedily enacted soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The coalition includes groups as varied as the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union, the Gun Owners of America, the American Baptist Churches, the U.S. Presbyterian Church and the Mennonite Central Committee. Immigrant-rights groups, librarians and civil rights groups also signed the letter.

"The draft bill contains a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence-gathering powers, many of which are not related to terrorism, that would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights, as well as disturb our unique system of checks and balances," the letter says. "If adopted, the bill would diminish personal privacy by removing important checks on government surveillance authority."

DSEA would, if enacted, create a new federal felony of willfully using encryption during the commission of a felony, punishable by "no more than five years" in prison plus a hefty fine.

It also would let the FBI and state police monitor--without a court order for up to 48 hours--what Web sites a suspect visits, what that person searches for with Google or on other sites and the people with whom he or she communicates via e-mail. Those relaxed eavesdropping standards would apply to Americans suspected of what would become a new offense of "activities threatening the national security interest."

Currently police can seek a warrant to "require the disclosure by a provider of electronic communication service of the contents of an electronic communication." Under existing law, police must notify the target of an investigation, except in rare cases such as when witnesses may be intimidated or a prospective defendant might flee. DSEA allows police to delay notification for three months by citing national security.

If someone were suspected of routine computer hacking, police would be able to ask a judge to issue search warrants valid for anywhere in the United States. Currently that law applies only to "violent acts or acts dangerous to human life."

When investigating a computer crime or other serious felonies, prosecutors would be able to serve secret subpoenas on people, ordering them to hand over evidence and testify in person. If served with a secret subpoena, the recipient would be barred from disclosing its existence. DSEA would also remove legal barriers limiting police from perusing credit reports.

The DSEA has not formally been introduced in Congress.

 

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