Senate panel OKs security bills, agency file-sharing crackdown

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved several bills that would address homeland security and technology issues.

One bill, S. 1612, would create a new office within the Homeland Security Department to provide local and state "first responders" to emergencies with counter-terrorism technology. Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, authored the measure, which would authorizes $50 million annually to establish and run a competitive grant program based on new criteria.

Four national law enforcement organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs' Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police and Major Cities Chiefs, endorsed the bill. It aims to fill a "technology gap" left by the department's traditional grant program, which cannot be used to purchase counter-terrorism technologies.

"By providing counter-terrorism technology to law enforcement agencies, we can help our first responders to become 'first preventers,' " Collins said.

The committee also approved measures, S. 1567 and H.R. 1416, that would institute financial accountability at Homeland Security and fix drafting mistakes in the law that created the department. One correction to the law, which was enacted in January, would add language that had been omitted from a provision defining "critical infrastructure."

Michigan Democrat Carl Levin said he also wants language included in a committee report for H.R. 1416 to clarify that the correction would not expand the definition of critical infrastructure. He said an expanded definition might affect an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for critical infrastructure.

The bill also would address language in the law that gave Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge immigration-related powers and duties previously reserved for the attorney general, John Ashcroft. A committee aide questioned whether senators on the Judiciary Committee would support the bill when the full Senate votes because of the jurisdiction issue between Homeland Security and the Justice Department, which Ashcroft heads.

The panel also approved a bill, H.R. 3159, that would require federal departments to address security and privacy vulnerabilities to computer networks that have arisen because of Internet file-sharing technology. The House passed the measure earlier this month.

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