Tags: Homeland | Security | Bill | 'Threat | Our | Civil | Liberties'

Homeland Security Bill a 'Threat to Our Civil Liberties'

Thursday, 14 November 2002 12:00 AM

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who serves as the ranking member of the House Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, urged her fellow Democrats to support H.R. 5710, the bill to establish the department.

"You may disagree with certain provisions, or with the process that has brought it to the floor," she acknowledged, "but this bill, in the net, is the right thing for the American people and can prove to be this Congress's lasting legacy."

Harman said she did have some problems with the proposal, including the fact that it has no provision to create an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The legislation isn't perfect, as we have heard, but neither was the National Security Act that created the Department of Defense in 1947. Our national security organization has evolved and improved over time, and so will our homeland security organization," she predicted.

"The compromises in this bill aren't perfect either," Harman continued. "But they are reasonable and they do make tremendous strides in protecting the security of every neighborhood in America."

It is one of those compromises that angered Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., who opposed the resolution to bring the bill up for a vote. Wynn argued that tens of thousands of federal employees, who currently work for entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Customs Service, would lose their civil service protections and collective bargaining rights under the provisions of the homeland security legislation.

"The only difference is the name of their agency. Why, then, do these people suddenly become security risks?" he asked. "This is supposed to be a bill about fighting terrorism. Unfortunately, this bill puts the administration at war with federal employees, and that's not right."

What is not right, said Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart, R-Fla., is Wynn's characterization of the collective bargaining and civil service waivers contained in the bill.

"The president currently has waiver ability, that he's getting in this legislation for this very important new department, in other departments, and that power has been used very judiciously and wisely in the past and has not been abused," Diaz-Balart said.

"I think that it's fair that the president, in something as important as the security of the homeland and this new department have the power that he has already with regard to other departments," he continued. "That's what we're giving him in this legislation."

But that's not the only compromise in the bill, and liberal Democrats are not the only ones unhappy with the concessions. Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, told CNSNews.com Wednesday that two sections of the bill are troublesome.

"It basically amends the Privacy Act of 1974 and allows an unprecedented surveillance of the commercial transactions of ordinary Americans," he explained. "It's very upsetting when it comes to this threat to our civil liberties."

Kent said the current language of the bill would authorize the government to examine personal and financial information, such as credit card activity or medical records, without a warrant, or even probable cause.

"The language is far too broad," he warned.

The second provision amends the federal Freedom of Information Act, Kent charged, to prevent U.S. citizens from knowing what information the government has collected about them.

Under current law, only very limited types of information, such as grand jury testimony, can be withheld from the citizen about whom the information is being collected.

"Every citizen has the right to access information about what the government knows about them under the Freedom of Information Act," Kent argued. "We have that now. Let's not change that."

Southeastern Legal Foundation is not opposed to giving the government greater power and more flexibility to pursue terrorists and to protect America's national interests, he concluded, as long as U.S. citizens' constitutional rights are preserved.

"The vast majority of Americans are all for tightening our borders and the war on terrorism. But we do not have to sacrifice our civil liberties," Kent opined. "National security is important, but freedom is essential."

Southeastern Legal Foundation has contacted a number of members of Congress to express their concerns about the privacy issues Kent mentioned. Those members were participating in closed caucus meetings and were unavailable for comment.

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Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who serves as the ranking member of the House Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, urged her fellow Democrats to support H.R. 5710, the bill to establish the department. "You may disagree with certain provisions, or with the process...
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2002-00-14
Thursday, 14 November 2002 12:00 AM
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