Secret Court OKs Broad Wiretap Powers

Discussion in 'privacy general' started by Ghost, Nov 19, 2002.

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  1. Ghost

    Ghost Guest

    (From this link: )

    "In a victory for the Bush administration, a secretive appeals court Monday ruled the U.S. government has the right to use expanded powers to wiretap terrorism suspects under a law adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    The ruling was a blow to civil libertarians who say the expanded powers, which allow greater leeway in conducting electronic surveillance and in using information obtained from the wiretaps and searches, jeopardize constitutional rights.

    In a 56-page ruling overturning a May opinion by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the three-judge appeals court panel said the Patriot Act gave the government the right to expanded powers.

    Sweeping anti-terror legislation, called the USA Patriot Act and signed into law in October last year after the hijacked plane attacks, makes it easier for investigators and prosecutors to share information obtained by surveillance and searches.

    In the May ruling, the seven judges that comprise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court unanimously told the government it had gone too far in interpreting the law to allow broad information sharing.

    The Justice Department (news - web sites) appealed, saying the order limited the kind of coordination needed to protect national security.

    Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) hailed Monday's ruling and said he was immediately implementing new regulations and working to expedite the surveillance process.

    "The court of review's action revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts," he said. "This decision does allow law enforcement officials to learn from intelligence officials and vice versa."


    Civil liberties groups, which had urged the appeals court -- comprised of three appeals court judges named by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (news - web sites) -- to uphold the court's order, slammed the ruling.

    "We are deeply disappointed with the decision, which suggests that this special court exists only to rubber-stamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants," said Ann Beeson of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites).

    The groups had argued that broader government surveillance powers would violate the Fourth Amendment which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

    But the appeals court said the procedures as required under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were reasonable.

    "We think the procedures and government showings required under FISA, if they do not meet the minimum Fourth Amendment warrant standards, certainly come close," the judges wrote in their ruling, which was partially declassified and published.

    "We, therefore, believe firmly ... that FISA as amended is constitutional because the surveillances it authorizes are reasonable."

    Ashcroft said the government would uphold the Constitution. "We have no desire whatever to, in any way, erode or undermine the constitutional liberties here," he said.

    The appeal is the first since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court and appeals court were created in 1978 to authorize wiretap requests in foreign intelligence investigations. Under the procedures, all hearings and decisions of the courts are conducted in secret.

    The appeal hearing was not public, and only the Justice Department's top appellate lawyer, Theodore Olson, presented arguments.

    Although the court allowed "friend of the court" briefs to be filed by civil liberties groups and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, since the Justice Department was the only party the ruling can likely not be appealed.

    "This is a major Constitutional decision that will affect every American's privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court," Beeson said. "
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