Patriot Act Surveillance Provisions Struck

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An Oregon lawyer mistakenly identified as a suspect in a terrorist bombing has won a ruling that parts of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they allow surveillance and searches of Americans without probable cause.

U.S. District Judge Anne Aiken of Portland ruled that the government avoided probable cause requirements through a portion of the law that allowed surveillance and searches if “a significant purpose” is gathering foreign intelligence, the New York Times reports. Before the change, such searches were allowed if the primary purpose was foreign intelligence.

The change permitted the government to use evidence gained in such searches in criminal cases as long as it asserted it had a significant interest in the targeted person for foreign intelligence, the judge said.

Brandon Mayfield did not give up his right to challenge the law when he agreed to a $2 million settlement in the case last fall. He was jailed in connection with the 2004 Madrid commuter train bombings when the FBI wrongly concluded that a partial fingerprint found on a plastic bag at the scene was his.

Mayfield, a practicing Muslim, claims that before his arrest investigators bugged his home and office, and conducted “sneak and peek” searches of both places.

“For over 200 years, this nation has adhered to the rule of law—with unparalleled success,” Aiken wrote in her opinion (PDF). “A shift to a nation based on extraconstitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised.”

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