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People suspected of hijacking, bombing or other terrorist acts could for the first time find their telephones and computers wiretapped by the government under a measure passed by the Senate. Currently, suspicion of terrorism isn’t a valid legal reason to get a wiretap, lawmakers said after passing the bill late Thursday night. “When you go to a judge to ask for a wiretap to commence an investigation, today you have to find some other crime, like credit card fraud, or some other crime these people might be engaged in to do what you really want to do: which is to investigate their terrorism,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. “Now what you can assert in a request for a warrant is that we think this person is guilty of U.S. Code title such-and-such, a terrorist crime.” The measure comes in response to the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists, who slammed airliners into both towers on Tuesday. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth slammed into a field in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers have complained that America’s intelligence community did not have any warning that the attack was going to occur. The measure was approved as part of the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, which provides about $42 billion for the Commerce, Justice and State departments. As part of that bill, the measure now goes to a House-Senate conference committee, where the final version will be hammered out. The measure was desperately needed, said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a former federal prosecutor. “You can get wiretaps for gambling, for drug deals, for mail fraud, but you can’t for terrorism,” Sessions said. Not everyone thought the bill was a good idea. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., argued that the expansion was too broad and could easily be abused. “If we give up all our freedoms, if we turn our back on 200 years or more of Constitutional history, of the things that make us strong as a nation, some would argue that the terrorists win,” he said. Leahy said lawmakers are rushing to do something to respond to the attacks in Washington and New York. “We have to be careful, that in our emotion in the midst of this murderous, horrible act, that we don’t start taking away the very freedoms that make us different from terrorists,” he said. The measure also: – Orders the CIA to rescind its ban on recruiting terrorist informants who have access to intelligence on terrorist plans and capabilities. – Allows U.S. attorneys to approve wiretaps. – Expands wiretap authority to cover computer communications. – Allows officials to trace computer communications over state lines with a single warrant in their efforts to track down computer hackers. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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