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unPARTRIOTIC in Idaho 

by Kevin Taylor & r & When the PATRIOT Act was passed in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, Idaho Congressman Butch Otter was one of only three Republican House members to oppose it.

Otter, seeing potential erosions of civil liberties in the unbridled eavesdropping and secrecy provisions the act gave to police agencies, was so far right that for once he wasn't wrong in the eyes of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Conservatives have been working with the ACLU on efforts to modify or reform the PATRIOT Act, says Jack Van Valkenburgh, the executive director of the Idaho ACLU chapter.

"I think it's great," Van Valkenburgh says.

Otter, who once expressed his civil liberties by destroying wetlands in his own back yard, has convinced the all-GOP Idaho delegation to challenge the PATRIOT Act. While Otter introduced reform legislation in the House in 2003, Sen. Larry Craig championed similar legislation in the Senate. The reforms encountered some tough, back-alley politics in July but aren't entirely dead.

In the House, procedural moves by committee members prevented any amendments -- including Otter's -- from seeing the light of day. In the Senate, however, masterful politician Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) was able to slip some of Craig's reforms into the bill, as Craig wrote to his constituents in an Aug. 5 letter.

Some of the safeguards include the following:

& lt;ul & & lt;li & Government must convince a judge that a person is connected to terrorism or espionage before obtaining their library records, medical records or other sensitive personal information. & lt;li & No "John Doe" roving wiretaps, which do not identify the person or the phone to be wiretapped. & lt;/ul &

The upshot of all the lever-pulling and maneuvering, Craig wrote, is that now a conference must be called to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill.

This is likely to put a crimp in President Bush's snapshot moment of signing the bill on Sept. 11.

Otter aide Mark Warbis says that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts will likely dominate Congress when the session resumes next week. It would be surprising, Warbis says, if the PATRIOT differences were hashed out in less than a week. Warbis adds that Otter is grateful the other Idaho senators and congressmen rallied to his side on the PATRIOT Act debate.

Idahoans make up much of a National Guard combat brigade currently serving in northern Iraq, Warbis notes, adding that Gem State citizens are fully involved in anti-terrorism efforts. Idaho has also been recently identified as the state where President Bush is most popular.

Still, Warbis adds, "Idahoans are more attuned to, or more sensitive to" a fuller balance of constitutional rights, including weighing the war on terror against any erosion of civil liberties.

It's high-falutin' language. In simpler terms, Idahoans want government to get the hell off their backs and not use global terrorism as an excuse to snoop into people's business.

"We must always keep the U.S. Constitution in mind as the guideline as Congress works on issues," Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said in late 2003. "And homeland security is no exception."

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