Lawmakers Approve Expansion of F.B.I.'s Antiterrorism Powers
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
Published: November 20, 2003
New York Times
ASHINGTON, Nov. 19 Congressional negotiators approved a measure on Wednesday to expand the F.B.I.'s counterterrorism powers, despite concerns from some lawmakers who said that the measure gave the government too much authority and that the public had been shut out of the debate.
The measure gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation greater authority to demand records from businesses in terrorism cases without the approval of a judge or a grand jury. While banks, credit unions and other financial institutions are currently subject to such demands, the measure expands the list to include car dealers, pawnbrokers, travel agents, casinos and other businesses.
The expansion, included in the 2004 authorization bill for intelligence agencies, has already been approved by both the House and the Senate, and lawmakers from both chambers approved the provision as part of the larger bill in a private session late Wednesday, officials said. Law enforcement officials said the F.B.I. would gain greater speed and flexibility in tracing suspected terrorist money.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, introduced a motion to limit the life of the new law, but it was defeated on a party-line vote.
"I'm concerned about this," Mr. Durbin said in an interview. "The idea of expanding the powers of government gives everyone pause except the Republican leadership."
The approval came despite 11th-hour concerns raised by five Democrats and a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who questioned why their panel which has responsibility for overseeing the F.B.I. was shut out of any discussion on the little-noticed proposal.
In a letter this week to the Senate intelligence committee, the senators urged the panel, which does much of its work in secret, not to move ahead with such a significant expansion of the F.B.I.'s powers without further review. They said public hearings, public debate and legislative protocol were essential in legislation involving the privacy rights of Americans.
The letter was signed by Senator Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, and five Democrats: Mr. Durbin, and Senators Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina.