Civil liberties issues arise in Senate intelligence overhaul debate
Privacy and civil protections offered in the bill are called "overkill."
Senate Republicans today stirred the ongoing debate on overhauling national intelligence-gathering operations by offering two amendments that raise civil liberties concerns.
One offered by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would eliminate some of the privacy and civil protections included in the bill by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., provisions that Kyl described as "overkill."
The second amendment was offered by Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and would, among other goals, standardize state requirements for proof of identity.
Neither amendment appeared headed toward an immediate vote, with Collins suggesting she and McCain look for a potential compromise. The amendments were just two of roughly 300 expected to be addressed in coming days as the Senate works its way through the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-tenn., and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., warned they would schedule votes on the bill Friday and Monday, and would limit debate on the measure if the pace does not pick up.
Kyl said that although there are safeguards already in place to protect privacy, the Collins-Lieberman measure would create "a whole array of new entities looking over their shoulders with huge powers," something that could inhibit creative solutions to intelligence efforts.
Besides standardizing the varying state requirements for proving identity, McCain's amendment would help prevent terrorists from entering the United States by improving training at immigration and consular offices and calls for better technology to detect terrorist travel documents and prevent clandestine entry into the United States. It also would require the Homeland Security Department to integrate multiple terrorist screening systems currently in use.
McCain said he believes it carefully balances the need to assure identities with civil liberties concerns, but added, "If somebody has a better idea I would very much like to hear it."
Collins acknowledged "a significant problem with fraudulent documents," but noted several state groups and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose what many see as an infringement on powers traditionally exercised by the states to set standards in the area of identification.
Meanwhile, two members of the 9/11 Commission, families of victims and House members today tried to turn up the heat on House GOP leaders to allow debate and a vote on the bipartisan bill offered by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., as an alternative to the GOP leadership's plan.
GOP leaders so far have refused, and Shays and Maloney today sent a letter to their leaders asking for an "up-and-down" vote.
"If we lose, we lose," said Shays. "This just can't be a Republican bill."
Former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., a member of the 9/11 Commission, and others called law enforcement and immigration provisions in the House GOP bill "poison pills" that would stall efforts to produce a final bill before Election Day.