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Anti-terrorism legislation America's response to 9-11

Immediately after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, both houses of Congress made proposals to provide legitimate legal authority to detect, deter and prevent future acts of terror on American soil or against Americans traveling anywhere else in the world.

The Senate approved a measure that would permit the issuance of judicial orders to intercept wire and oral communications of suspected terrorists. The amendment, S.A. 1562, would also expand authority to install pen registers and trap-and-trace devices.

The federal provisions on pen registers and trap-and-trace devices under 18 U.S.C. 3121 would be expanded in several ways to include not only the numbers of telephones from which calls are made or received, but to permit the sweep of computers as well. This proposal would amend the definition of a pen register as "a device which records or decodes dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information transmitted by an instrument or facility from which a wire or electronic communication is transmitted."

This proposal would also permit federal law enforcement agents and U.S. attorneys to install pen registers and trap-and-trace devices on an emergency basis without a court order, although a court order would have to be obtained within 48 hours of the device's installation.

These proposals would also add several new requirements as the legal catalyst for these emergency provisions. The employment of warrantless anti-terrorism techniques could occur where a federal agent reasonably found "the existence of the immediate threat to national security interests," "immediate threat to public health or safety," or an "attack on the integrity of a protected computer," which would be an offense punishable under 18 U.S.C. 1030(c)(2)(C).

Proposed legislation also includes amendments to 18 U.S.C. 233913, which criminalizes the supply or support of terrorist groups and has a clear connection for that purpose to criminal money laundering enforcement jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. 1956.

The highlights of this new legislation, entitled "United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001," are essentially as follows. The act permits the sharing of grand jury information between law enforcement agencies, intelligence groups, etc., without a court order and amends Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) in that regard.

In addition, the act amends 18 U.S.C. 2517 to now allow the sharing of the contents of wire, oral or electronic communications obtained consistent with the act and federal law. The act expands subpoenas for records of electronic communications; delays the previous requirement of government notification for execution of a warrant (18 U.S.C. 2705, Sec. 213); and expands the authority for the issuance of pen register and trap-and-trace orders under 18 U.S.C. 3121-27 to cover Internet communications.

The new anti-terrorism legislation also treats voice mail messages under 18 U.S.C. 2703 and eliminates the need for a search warrant for messages more than 180 days old. It also adds terrorism crimes, offenses related to biochemical weapons and attacks, computer fraud, money laundering, and a variety of other crimes for which wire, voice, electronic or oral communications are subject to legitimate interception, and for which a warrant can be ordered.

Additional provisions of this broad sweeping anti-terrorism act include the tracing of Internet communications (expanding the authority of 18 U.S.C. 3121-27); roving wiretaps; extension of previously authorized surveillance periods; the nationwide expanse and reach of search warrants; and liability and fines for unauthorized exposure of any of the information obtained pursuant to the act.

This new legislation seeks to define as new and unique federal crimes acts of terrorism against American citizens and those acts committed on American soil. It is now a federal offense and crime to attack mass transportation systems (Sec. 801), to harbor terrorists or conceal suspected terrorists (Sec. 803), or to possess a biological weapon (Sec. 817).