The U.S. Senate passed a wide-sweeping antiterrorism bill Thursday that gives police new powers to tap phones and track Internet use, among other measures.
The compromise bill, which combines antiterrorism legislation set forth by the Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the administration of President George W. Bush, was almost unanimously approved. The only senator to vote against the legislation was Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold.
The bill already sailed through the House Wednesday, in a 357 to 66 vote. With approval from both the House and Senate, the bill could be signed into law by President Bush as soon as Friday, congressional leaders have said.
Bush and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft have been pushing for the legislation since the devastating Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
The legislation has come under heavy criticism from privacy advocates, however, who think that the bill's surveillance measures have gone too far, too fast.
The bill gives law enforcement officials the power to wiretap all phones used by suspected terrorists, track their Internet use, and search their homes, as well as give investigators and antiterrorism officials the ability to share information about suspects.
In a conference call held earlier today before the bill's approval, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) expressed its concerns that the bill could be used to invade personal privacy.
"We object to the characterization of this bill as a compromise between national security and civil liberties," said CDT Executive Director Jerry Berman, who added that he "agrees that it is a compromise of civil liberties."
Although privacy groups have claimed that legislators have not taken the time to consider the full ramifications of the bill, government leaders have emphasized the improvements they have made to the legislation since the executive branch, which includes the president and his Cabinet, first put forth its draft last month.
"The bill that we have brought back to the House and the Senate is a far better bill than proposed to us by the Administration and a better bill than either body passed initially," Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said in a statement following the bill's approval in the House Wednesday.
"We have done the White House a great favor by taking the time actually to read and improve this bill before passing it," Leahy added in the statement.
Still, privacy advocates appeared unconvinced.
"This legislation could be one of the biggest mistakes our Congress has ever made," said Berman. "Time will tell."