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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 3:25 p.m., Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hawai'i congressmen divided over Patriot Act

Associated Press

Hawai'i's two Democratic U.S. representatives were divided in their votes today to renew a modified USA Patriot Act to combat terrorism.

Congressman Neil Abercrombie voted against the bill, calling the act "a blank check to trample civil liberties." Congressman Ed Case, meanwhile, favored the measure, which was approved and sent to the Senate.

The vote in the House was 251-174, with 44 Democrats joining 207 Republicans.

"The Patriot Act is an unrestricted license for the government to snoop and bully anyone for any reason," Abercrombie said. "Instead of thoughtfully strengthening laws that actually work to thwart terrorists, Congress is giving government a blank check to trample civil liberties."

Case disagreed, saying he voted for the Patriot Act, "because the significant anti-terrorism tools it provides law enforcement."

President Bush urged against any delay in Senate action.

"The Patriot Act is essential to fighting the war on terror and preventing our enemies from striking America again," Bush said. "In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment."

Congress overwhelmingly passed the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The law expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.

Republicans say the country will be left vulnerable if the Patriot Act is not renewed.

But the bill's opponents say the original act was rushed into law, and Congress should take more time now to make sure the rights of innocent Americans are safeguarded before making 14 of the 16 expiring provisions permanent.

"One of the most troubling aspects of the bill is that there's no meaningful accountability for these abuses, or even any way to learn of their occurrence," Abercrombie said.

He said he supports some of the bill's provisions, but said those benefits were outweighed by the measure's threat to civil liberties and should be addressed in separate legislation.

Case said 14 provisions have not been controversial. The remaining two, access to business records and roving wiretaps, have been essential tools for law enforcement.

"I believe the amended Patriot Act properly balances our collective need to protect ourselves against the reality of terror with our collective commitment to individual rights," he said.

Included in the House-Senate accord is a measure to restrict and record the sale of products necessary to cook methamphetamine, including ingredients in many cold medicines. If passed, the act would also give $99 million a year for five years to arrest and prosecute dealers and traffickers, plus $20 million for two years to help children affected by the meth trade.