Wiretap Law Gives Broad Power

Lawmakers may have given the government more authority to search Americans than they realized when they quickly passed a terrorism wiretap law before the end of the congressional session.

Some experts told the New York Times the new law may give the government power in certain situations to seize Americans’ business records, conduct physical searches, and analyze calling patterns, without the need for a warrant.

The experts said the law allows such searches inside this country if the information collected concerns a suspected terrorist believed to be outside the country.

The administration contends the experts are overstating possible abuses; they say strict rules will keep warrantless searches of Americans to a minimum.

Even so, Justice Department officials indicated at a meeting with private groups last week that they believe the president has constitutional powers to ignore the broad limits set by the law.

Bruce Fein, who served in the Reagan Justice Department, said current DOJ officials’ stance sends the message that the new law “is just advisory. The president can still do whatever he wants to do. They have not changed their position that the president’s Article II powers trump any ability by Congress to regulate the collection of foreign intelligence.”

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