Expanded Wiretap Powers Proposed

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Updated: Democrats have proposed temporary legislation to expand government powers to wiretap suspected foreign terrorists for the next six months.

Currently, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approves wiretaps of foreign terrorism suspects who have conversations with people in the United States. The Democratic proposal would authorize the court to develop procedures for wiretaps without need to identify particular suspects overseas, the Washington Post reports.

A warrant would be needed only if an overseas suspect has a “significant” number of conversations with people in the United States, the newspaper explains.

The legislation was proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The administration had suggested that the attorney general should devise the rules for surveillance, but Democrats balked at giving that power to Alberto Gonzales.

The push for temporary legislation follows a ruling by the foreign intelligence court placing new restrictions on the collection of wiretap information from overseas suspects, the Los Angeles Times reports.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, referred to the ruling in a television interview Tuesday evening. “There’s been a ruling, over the last four or five months, that prohibits the ability of our intelligence services and our counterintelligence people from listening in to two terrorists in other parts of the world where the communication could come through the United States,” he said.

A source told the Los Angeles Times the ruling concerned a “basket warrant” that seeks surveillance against multiple overseas targets.

Rockefeller’s proposal does not address whether telecommunications companies should be shielded from legal liability for aiding government surveillance, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Lawsuits have accused companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. of violating privacy by turning over customer information to the National Security Agency. (See this ABAJournal.com post for more information.)

Originally posted 08-02-2007 at 08:53 AM.

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