Info sharing bill advances

House Judiciary Committee approves legislation that forges closer link between feds and state and local law enforcement

Working with unusual speed, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill on June 13 to make it easier for federal agents to share intelligence tips with their state and local counterparts.

The Homeland Security Information Sharing Act is one piece in what is expected to be a growing arsenal of legislation to protect Americans by relying on data mining to share details about suspected terrorists. It still faces debate in the Senate.

"State and local officials will be the first to respond to a terrorist threat," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the panel's chairman. "We must provide a way to get this information quickly."

However, Democrats on the House panel were skeptical that the legislation is strong enough to protect a person's privacy rights.

"We have a dilemma," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). "We all agree there should be more surveillance. We are worried about misuse."

While Frank and other lawmakers agreed that information sharing is essential in the fight against terrorism, they said it is important to sanitize information and ensure there is no abuse of the system.

But local law enforcement officials see the legislation as an important part of the war against terrorism.

"Information sharing is critically important," said John Cary Bittick, sheriff of Monroe County, Ga. and president of the National Sheriffs' Association. "It is even more critical if we are going to be successful in preventing and preparing for terrorism. All levels of law enforcement — federal, state and local — must cooperate, must utilize their skills and must share information if the nation is to win the war on terrorism."

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