RealNews

U.S. Steps Up Secret Surveillance

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Justice Department and FBI have dramatically increased the use of two little-known powers that allow authorities to tap telephones, seize bank and telephone records and obtain other information in counterterrorism investigations with no immediate court oversight, according to officials and newly disclosed documents. The FBI, for example, has issued scores of “national security letters” that require businesses to turn over electronic records about finances, telephone calls, e-mail and other personal information, according to officials and documents. The letters, a type of administrative subpoena, may be issued independently by FBI field offices and are not subject to judicial review unless a case comes to court, officials said. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has also personally signed more than 170 “emergency foreign intelligence warrants,” three times the number authorized in the preceding 23 years, according to recent congressional testimony. Federal law allows the attorney general to issue unilaterally these classified warrants for wiretaps and physical searches of suspected terrorists and other national security threats under certain circumstances. They can be enforced for 72 hours before they are subject to review and approval by the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Full Story

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