Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New Patriot Act Provision Creates Tighter Barrier to Officials at Public Events

WASHINGTON — A new provision tucked into the Patriot Act bill now before Congress would allow authorities to haul demonstrators at any "special event of national significance" away to jail on felony charges if they are caught breaching a security perimeter.

Sen. Arlen Specter , R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sponsored the measure, which would extend the authority of the Secret Service to allow agents to arrest people who willingly or knowingly enter a restricted area at an event, even if the president or other officials normally protected by the Secret Service isn't in attendance at the time.

The measure has civil libertarians protesting what they say is yet another power grab for the executive branch and one more loss for free speech.

"It's definitely problematic and chilling," said Lisa Graves, senior counsel for legislative strategy at the American Civil Liberties Union , which has written letters to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, pointing out that the provision wasn't subject to hearings or open debate.

Some conservatives say they too are troubled by the measure.

"It concerns me greatly," said Bob Barr, former U.S. prosecutor and Republican representative from Georgia. "It clearly raises serious concerns about First Amendment rights."

(Story continues below)

Sorry, it's Fox News

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