Civil libertarians are reacting with shock to a draft of new legislation being circulated in the Bush administration which, if passed, would radically reduce the Constitutional rights of everyone, citizen and non-citizen alike. It would also drastically reduce the “checks and balances” of government.

Although The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 has not been presented in Congress, a draft of the legislation was sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and to Vice President Dick Cheney on Jan. 10. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s minority staff who have inquired about “Patriot Act II” were told as recently as last week that no such legislation is being discussed.

The USA/PATRIOT Act, passed in October 2001, has already weakened Constitutional rights by allowing more government surveillance with fewer judicial checks and balances and giving the executive branch a greater level of secrecy in the conduct of its operations.

The draft surfaced last week on the website of the Center for Public Integrity and became the topic of a Bill Moyers’ television interview with Chuck Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

After the story broke, the director of public affairs for the Justice Dept., Barbara Comstock, said, “It would be premature to speculate on any future decisions … that are being discussed at staff levels.”

The draft legislation goes much farther than either the USA/PATRIOT Act or the Homeland Security Act in giving the executive unchecked power to go after people it chooses to define as supporters of terrorism. Among its provisions are those:

• Allowing the government to strip people of their U.S. citizenship if they are found to be “associated” with groups declared to be terroristic.

• Authorizing creation of a DNA database of terrorists, people suspected to associate with terrorist groups, and non-citizens suspected of certain crimes that might aid terrorism.

• Imposing secrecy orders on information about “worst case scenario” reports of industry. outlining the kind of disasters that might result from their operations resulting from terrorist activity

• Permitting secret arrests and deportations of non-citizens, including legal permanent residents.

According to Lewis, the legislation has been kept secret from Congress as well as the public. Its emergence into the light of day has set off indignant protests by political leaders such as Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), as well as the ACLU and other civil liberties organizations.

Brandi Kishner contributed to this article. The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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