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all rights reversed Terror Law Foes Mull Strategies By Declan McCullagh

by bushwhacked Monday, Nov. 05, 2001 at 5:59 PM

Will the FBI be able to keep its brand new set of eavesdropping and surveillance powers?

Terror Law Foes Mull Strategies

By Declan McCullagh

2:00 a.m. Nov. 3, 2001 PST

President Bush recently signed a massive anti-terrorism bill, granting investigators unprecedented powers that have been

applauded by police groups but condemned by civil libertarians.

Because parts of the spy law are so invasive that they arguably violate Americans' privacy rights, opponents of the

so-called USA Patriot Act have begun to weigh how to mount a legal challenge.

See also:

FBI Terror Detentions Questioned

Terror Act Has Lasting Effects

America v. Terrorism: All the Facts

Lycos' America Rebuilds Resource Page

Conflict 2001: Fresh Perspectives

"These things are certainly being discussed and assessed," says David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy

Information Center in Washington, D.C.

But, says Sobel, there's only one problem: An immediate lawsuit asking a federal judge to declare the anti-terrorism act

unconstitutional faces an uphill battle.

Any legal challenge would focus on the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which explicitly forbids "unreasonable searches

and seizures" -- while implicitly permitting reasonable ones. Since the anti-terrorism law lets police obtain court approval to

sneak into someone's house or office, rummage through the contents and leave without telling the owner, opponents could

argue such a search was "unreasonable."

A court challenge would proceed along one of two paths: A lawsuit filed in the near future that says secret searches and

enhanced wiretapping powers are blatantly unconstitutional and should be struck down, or a case that eventually arises out

of a prosecution.

The first approach, called a facial challenge and successfully used by opponents of the 1996 Communications Decency Act,

is said to be far less likely to succeed.

"At least in terms of the surveillance provisions, there are not any obvious opportunities for facial challenges," says Jim

Dempsey, an attorney at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Outside of the First Amendment (area), facial

challenges are usually difficult. I think that case-by-case challenges are possible."

Dempsey says the second approach -- spurred by a criminal prosecution involving, say, secret searches or the use of a

shadowy court that meets in the bowels of the Justice Department -- is more promising.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that police could not snoop on Americans' homes using thermal imaging

devices without obtaining a warrant first. The high court could take a similar approach in a prosecution involving the

anti-terrorism law and decide that certain police methods authorized by the law are unconstitutional.

Cliff Fishman, a law professor at Catholic University, says he supports the law and predicts that there is little "likelihood

that this Supreme Court would overthrow any provisions. The court has made it clear that the government has the right to

these powers."

One especially controversial part of the anti-terrorism law is how it expands a secret court -- created in 1978 by the Foreign

Intelligence Surveillance Act -- and permits the court's search warrants and eavesdropping orders to apply in domestic

investigations. Since the investigations are intended for intelligence purposes, not law enforcement, the FISA judges don't

have to follow the Fourth Amendment.

Fishman says that "if the government uses that change in language as a way to use FISA as end-run around (the Fourth

Amendment), then there is a distinct possibility the court is going to shoot it down."

Antonio Perez, also a law professor at Catholic University, agrees. Perez says a possible approach for a constitutional

challenge is "in the sections on collection of information, if it's collected under the lax intelligence protections and it's used

for criminal prosecution."

"We don't expect there will be any immediate litigation here," says Barry Steinhardt, the associate director of the American

Civil Liberties Union. "There will be litigation down the road. The real law will be made on appeal in criminal prosecutions."

One section of the new law that could be challenged states that the Justice Department can order an Internet provider to

install the FBI's Carnivore surveillance system and record addresses of Web pages visited and e-mail correspondents --

without going to a judge. Previously, there were stiffer legal restrictions on Carnivore and other Internet surveillance


Also, any Internet provider or telephone company must turn over customer information, including phone numbers called --

no court order required -- if the FBI claims that the "records sought are relevant to an authorized investigation to protect

against international terrorism." The company contacted may not "disclose to any person" that the FBI is doing an


Legal experts say one problem with a constitutional attack on the law is that so much of the eavesdropping is taking place

covertly -- meaning police may collect vast amounts of information but never use it in a prosecution. The FBI already has

indicated how tight-lipped it plans to be: It had refused to release information on over 1,000 people detained after the

Sep. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Typically, Fourth Amendment issues are raised in the context of a specific criminal prosecution," says EPIC's Sobel. "But

it's not clear that there will be such prosecutions here because so many powers are tied to intelligence gathering that's not

tied to criminal investigations."

Previously, when the FBI wiretapped an American citizen, the target was supposed to find out about it -- either by being

prosecuted or through a notice the police were legally obliged to send after the surveillance was complete. But under FISA

investigations, the right of notice does not apply.

"I trust the professionals in law enforcement," says Fishman, the Catholic University professor. "We have to hope that the

FBI is conscientious, and that's all we can ask."
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