House Joint Resolution 64/Senate Joint Resolution 23 passed the house today, with only one dissenting voice. The gist of the bill? Bush has the approval to "use all necessary and appropriate force" that he deems appropriate. Debate on the bill was extremely limited, despite concerns from some members of the house that giving Bush a blank check to do pretty much anything could be disastrous.
On Thursday evening, with hardly any media coverage whatsoever, the Senate approved the "Combating Terrorism Act of 2001," which enhances police wiretap powers and permits monitoring in more situations. It also allows prosecutors to monitor the actions of people on the Internet (using Carnivore) for 48-hour periods without a judge's approval. This unapproved surveillance appears to be limited to the addresses of web sites visited, the names and addresses of a person's e-mail correspondents, all URLs individuals visit, and what search terms are being typed in when visiting search engines. It is not intended to include the contents of communications, but the security of a person's e-mail might be very well be violated during the chouse of this 48 hour time period... I have to wonder how this applies to web-based email. Certainly things like LiveJournal posts (which have obvious URLs) could be considered fair game for snooping on under this act.
By voice vote, the Senate attached the Combating Terrorism Act to an annual spending bill that funds the Commerce, Justice and State departments for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, then unanimously approved it.
During Thursday's floor debate, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), head of the Judiciary committee, suggested that the bill went far beyond merely thwarting terrorism and could endanger Americans' privacy. He also said he had just 30 minutes to read the Combating Terrorism Act before the floor debate began.
"Maybe the Senate wants to just go ahead and adopt new abilities to wiretap our citizens," Leahy said. "Maybe they want to adopt new abilities to go into people's computers. Maybe that will make us feel safer. Maybe. And maybe what the terrorists have done made us a little bit less safe. Maybe they have increased Big Brother in this country."
The news gets worse... In a floor speech on Thursday, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire) called for a global prohibition on encryption products without backdoors for (U.S.) government surveillance. Gregg said encryption makers "have as much at risk as we have at risk as a nation, and they should understand that as a matter of citizenship, they have an obligation" to include decryption methods for government agents. It seems very likely at this point that we will once again try to force insecure encryption with U.S. owned backdoors on the rest of the world... and, of course, if you use secure encryption products, you will be a criminal.
I have to wonder whether we will lose something permanently in a rush to respond. The attack against the U.S. appears to have been five years in the making. Surely we can afford five months to make sure that we are taking the right actions against the right people; to make sure that we are not just seeking revenge, but seeking a real, lasting peace... and to make sure that America is a country worth living in once peace has been secured.