U.S. Senate set to vote on antiterrorism bill

A wide-sweeping antiterrorism bill that gives police new powers to tap phones and track Internet use, among other measures, could move one step closer to becoming law Thursday when the U.S. Senate votes on the legislation.

The compromise bill, which combines antiterrorism legislation set forth by the Senate, the House of Representatives and the administration of President George W. Bush, was overwhelmingly passed in the House Wednesday.

The Senate was set to begin considering the bill at 10 a.m. Thursday, with five hours and 10 minutes allotted for debate followed by a roll call vote, according to the Senate Web site. If passed, President Bush could sign the bill into law 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 United States.

The proposed legislation has come under heavy criticism from privacy advocates, however, who think that the bill’s surveillance measures have gone too far, too fast.

If passed, the bill would give law enforcement officials the power to wire tap 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.

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.

The Senate Web site is http://www.senate.gov/.