Clandestine warrants getting out of bounds

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2004

Taking advantage of the relaxed standard for secret foreign intelligence searches it gained with the USA Patriot Act in 2001, the Justice Department has steamed forward in its use of clandestine surveillance warrants.

While it is reassuring that Justice is taking terror investigations seriously, it also is a worry.

These warrants are so secret that people who aren't later charged the vast majority never know the government was watching them. And people who are charged are never permitted to see the warrant, so they cannot defend themselves in court against unreasonable snooping.

The 1,727 clandestine surveillance and search warrants approved last year by the super-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court overtook the number of standard surveillance warrants approved by standard courts (1,442) for the first time, according to reports from the Office of the Attorney General and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The number is a 70 percent increase over the figure from 2000. ...

... After suspects have been charged and have learned of a clandestine warrant, their lawyers can ask to see it, but the government has never disclosed one, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. If they had been tapped under a standard warrant, that warrant would have to be released on request.

Meanwhile, the court itself noted in 2000, before passage of the Patriot Act, that 75 warrant applications contained factual errors ... usually from FBI sources. That was out of 1,102 warrants issued that year.

... These warrants should be released on request, as are the public ones. ... Failing to provide a basic check against the power of the government weakens liberty for all. ...

The (Baltimore) Sun

May 17

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