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State candidate sees need for greater secrecy

By ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 26, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- As Florida's attorney general, Tom Warner would favor new exemptions to the state's public records law -- as well as the creation of a statewide database of suspicious activity -- to combat terrorism.

Warner, one of three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general, outlined his ideas Tuesday in a lunchtime speech to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

Police investigators ought to be able to look at which library books you check out without getting a court order, said Warner, who is the state's appointed solicitor general. The Attorney General's Office should be able to keep secret any written proof of having met with authorities investigating the terrorist activity, he said.

The Attorney General's Office ought to devise and operate a statewide database that would chronicle suspicious but not necessarily criminal actions. Limits on the use of wiretaps, search warrants, confidential informants and seizures should be loosened up as well, Warner said.

"Aren't we moving down the road to Big Brother?" asked Bob Derry, a Tiger Bay member from Madeira Beach. Derry won the traditional stuffed tiger for the toughest question asked.

Answered Warner: "Maybe. I think the focus here is on foreign nationals operating in our country."

But he acknowledged how Americans suspected of involvement could face the same invasive investigative techniques.

"Probably we're going to have less in the way of privacy and civil liberties," said Warner. "It's sad."

Warner, a state House member from Stuart, left his seat in 1999 to become the state's first solicitor general. The position, within the Attorney General's Office, was created to be the state's chief appellate attorney. He argues major cases that have critical implications for state policy.

Warner works hand-in-hand with state Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who is leaving office because of term limits. Next year, Warner will face St. Petersburg's Charlie Crist, now education commissioner, and state Sen. Locke Burt of Ormond Beach in the Republican primary. The only Democrat in the race is state Sen. Buddy Dyer of Orlando.

Tuesday's remarks to Tiger Bay club members, he said, were a departure from the typical speech he would give. The terrorist attacks in Washington and New York City, he said, have forced state officials to rethink their roles in security matters.

"We certainly need (federal authorities') assistance," Warner said. "But I think we need to take some steps ourselves."

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