Tags: Court | OKs | Broad | Use | Wiretaps | Track | Terrorists

Court OKs Broad Use of Wiretaps to Track Terrorists

Monday, 18 November 2002 12:00 AM

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the ruling, the first ever by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, "revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts."

"We're disappointed with the decision, which suggests that [the spy court] exists only to rubber-stamp government decisions," said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney for American Civil Liberties Union.

Congress put the wall between intelligence and law enforcement in place after domestic spying abuses in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the restrictions were contained in the 1971 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which also placed strict court supervision over domestic intelligence efforts.

But the

Ashcroft ordered the implementation of the act, but had to stay that order after a ruling by the FISA court.

The ruling by the highly secret court came in a case in which the Justice Department approached the FISA court for approval of surveillance of a U.S. citizen who was believed to be "aiding, abetting or conspiring with others in international terrorism."

The court approved the surveillance, but further ordered that "law enforcement officials shall not make recommendations to intelligence officials concerning the initiation, operation, continuation or expansion of FISA searches or surveillances."

The FISA court ruling said the FBI and the Justice Department's Criminal Division "shall ensure that law enforcement officials do not control the use of the FISA procedures to enhance criminal prosecution, and that advice intended to preserve the option of criminal prosecution does not inadvertently result in the Criminal Division's directing or controlling the investigation using FISA searches and surveillances toward law enforcement objectives."

To help maintain the wall between law enforcement and intelligence gathering, the FISA court fashioned a "chaperone requirement": The DOJ's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review must be invited to all meetings between the FBI and the Criminal Division on efforts to "investigate or protect against foreign attack or other grave, hostile acts ... "

The Justice Department then appealed the FISA court ruling.

Monday, the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review reversed the FISA court.

In reaching its ruling, the review court also considered so-called friend-of-the-court briefs filed by American Civil Liberties Union and others. ACLU expressed particular concern about potential abuses of federal spying in the United States.

"After a careful review of the briefs filed by the government and [the friends of the court], we conclude that FISA, as amended by the Patriot Act, supports the government's position," the review court said, "and that the restrictions imposed by the FISA court are not required by FISA or the Constitution."

The review court sent the case back down to the FISA court for a rehearing based on Monday's opinion.

Under law, the review court's ruling can still be reviewed by the Supreme Court, but because the Justice Department was the only party in the case and hence the only one who can ask the Supreme Court to intervene, that won't happen, a senior department official said later.

In a Justice Department news conference after the ruling, Ashcroft said he was putting into place a number of new measures to improve the FISA process:

Ashcroft said the FISA process was strictly supervised by the court, which should mean tight controls on potential abuse.

"We will do it all with a serious respect for the Constitution," the attorney general said.

Ashcroft appeared unenthusiastic about new congressional proposals to create a domestic spying agency along the lines of MI-5 in Britain.

The attorney general noted that the department had just won a victory for the sharing of information. "It seems to me the establishment of a separate agency would be a step in the wrong direction."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Attorney General John Ashcroft said the ruling, the first ever by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, "revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts." "We're disappointed with the decision, which suggests that...
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2002-00-18
Monday, 18 November 2002 12:00 AM
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