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Antiterrorism effort jelling, panel told

Some think, however, broader police powers and secret records could lead to civil rights abuses.

©Associated Press
November 30, 2001

ORLANDO -- The pieces of Florida's antiterrorism efforts, consisting of enhanced police powers and restrictions on public records, are quickly falling into place, a top state law enforcement official told a security task force Thursday.

At least two key measures, an intelligence database and the ability of certain law enforcement officers to make arrests anywhere in the state, will be ready in the next several weeks, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Tim Moore told the Domestic Security Advisory Panel.

The statewide intelligence database -- criticized by some civil rights groups -- will store information on individuals suspected of terrorist-related criminal activity. Moore said the database will be ready by mid-December.

Moore said the database will be focused and not a compilation of false and questionable allegations. According to an FDLE document, information submitted "must relate to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity," but uninvestigated tips can also be entered.

"There's got to be a reason to believe that the investigation will lead to an arrest for a crime," Moore said. "It can't be just Joe Doe met Joe Doe."

But the database has the potential for abuse, said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

"If I overhear a flip comment you make in a restaurant and I call it into the FDLE and your name is entered into the database as having the potential for criminal conduct, that would be an abuse of your rights and an abuse of what the system is supposed to be about," Simon said.

Historically, such databases have been used for political reasons, Simon said from his Miami office. He pointed to the files the FBI and other government agencies created in the 1950s and 1960s on civil rights and antiwar activists who never committed a crime.

"We've been through this," he said.

But Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary, a member of the panel, said a database was needed to prevent future attacks.

"You need an intelligence database and if it upsets a few liberals in this country, then shame on them," Beary said at the meeting.

The second measure would give the 100 or so law enforcement officers assigned to the state's seven regional terrorism task forces the authority to investigate and make arrests anywhere in Florida.

Moore told the panel that lawmakers will likely pass a series of measures restricting access to public records dealing with terrorism investigations.

The Department of Health has asked for money to expand emergency room capabilities for chemical attacks, the Secretary Dr. John Agwunobi told the panel. He said the department also has a surveillance system consisting of local health departments and law enforcement agencies that can detect disease outbreaks and take action.

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