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Judge strikes blow to Patriot Act

A federal judge took the controversial US Patriot Act to task late last week, declaring certain sections of the legislation unconstitutional and ruling that authorities must first obtain a warrant before engaging in internet and telephone tapping activities.

US District Judge Victor Marrero, of the District of Colombia in New York, said that such warrantless wiretapping violated the First Amendment and offended constitutional principles of checks and balances.

The Patriot Act was passed soon after the terrorist attacks on September 11 2001 and effectively allowed the FBI to secretly request telephone, internet and email logs without applying for a warrant.

Although the FBI already had the ability to issue National Security Letters (NSLs), which embody the request to the service provider, the Patriot Act paved the way for a sure in requests on the back of a relaxation of the rules for NSLs. Records show an increase from fewer than 9,000 NSLs issued in 2000 to nearly 50,000 in 2005.

“A compelling need exists to ensure that the use of NSLs is subject to the safeguards of public accountability, checks and balances, and separation of powers that our Constitution prescribes,” said Marrero.

Melissa Goodman, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) staff attorney on the case, added: “Without oversight, there is nothing to stop the government from engaging in broad fishing expeditions, or targeting people for the wrong reasons, and then gagging Americans from ever speaking out against potential abuses of this intrusive surveillance power.”


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