Tags: court | oks | wiretaps

FISA Court: Warrantless Wiretaps Are Legal

Friday, 16 Jan 2009 07:33 AM

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WASHINGTON -- A U.S. foreign intelligence court affirmed on Thursday the government's right to use wiretaps on international phone calls and intercept e-mails without a court warrant under a 2007 law.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review - the appeals court for the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court - said in an unclassified version of an August 2008 ruling that a now-expired law authorizing the interceptions was constitutional.

The ruling, which affirmed the secret court's initial finding, was a victory for President George W. Bush's administration which had faced criticism for saying it had the right to conduct warrantless wiretaps in certain circumstances for national security reasons.

"The Department of Justice is pleased with this important ruling," said Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd.

The case involved a challenge by an unnamed communications company that protested the Protect America Act of 2007 which authorized the executive branch to tap international communication of people who were believed to be outside of the United States without first getting a court warrant.

The Court of Review said the Protect America Act was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The release of the opinion marked only the second time the court had published any of its rulings since it was established more than 30 years ago, Boyd said.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in the past few years accusing AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Sprint Nextel Corp of violating Americans' privacy rights in the surveillance program.

The Protect America Act expired last February. In July, Congress passed a new law allowing the surveillance and also granting liability protection to telecommunication companies that took part in the warrantless domestic spying program after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

The measure shielded those firms from potentially billions of dollars in damages from privacy lawsuits and implements the biggest overhaul of U.S. spy laws in three decades.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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