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 in secret.
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."
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