- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

Lawmakers are considering whether to give U.S. anti-terrorism agents new police powers to make it easier to obtain special wiretaps and search warrants usually reserved for finding foreign spies.
The changes, solicited from the Justice Department by House and Senate members working on the intelligence bill that sets the budget for the CIA, come just weeks after Congress approved and President Bush signed powerful new anti-terrorism laws. The changes would:
Allow federal agents to secretly request wiretaps even if details about the target of the surveillance, such as his identity or the location of his phone, weren't known.
Allow agents to make broader demands for most business records, as long as the documents were related to an investigation.
Give the government up to three days to seek a judge's approval for warrants after investigators conduct a search or wiretap in emergencies. The government currently must obtain a judge's permission after just 24 hours.
A fourth proposed change, which lawmakers already have rejected, would have permitted the United States to invoke a powerful anti-espionage law even in cases against individual foreigners. That law is currently reserved for cases against people working as spies for foreign governments or other foreign organizations.
All the changes would affect the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, a secret U.S. court considers requests for searches or wiretaps, and these generally require a lower standard of proof for approval than in traditional criminal cases.
The Justice Department and some lawmakers characterized the changes as technical amendments to the surveillance act. House and Senate oversight committees had urged intelligence agencies and the Justice Department to suggest changes to the law. The proposals, including the one lawmakers rejected, came from Justice lawyers.
"It is perfectly normal that committees will reach out to executive agencies for input about changes they want to make and language that facilitates that," Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden said. "In this case, the intelligence committees reached out to the Justice Department for technical guidance."
Civil liberties groups cautioned that the changes would considerably broaden police powers.
"This is a significant expansion of electronic surveillance in the United States," said Jerry Berman, head of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology. "It's only been a month or so, and they're already asking for expansions."
The proposal rejected by lawmakers would have allowed the surveillance law to be used against "a foreign individual," according to draft language by Justice Department lawyers. They wrote that otherwise restricting use of the espionage law "limits the ability of the president to use this statute against hijackers or other terrorists without affiliation or known affiliation with a specific group or foreign state."
People familiar with the proposals, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said lawmakers considered that change too serious to be included among technical amendments and decided not to consider it until at least next year.
Another change would add the phrase "if known" to the requirement for wiretap approvals of identifying the location of a target's electronic communications. Justice lawyers said the change would be useful in cases of wireless telephones or e-mail accounts, "where the facility to be monitored is typically not known in advance."
The Patriot Act that Mr. Bush signed Oct. 26 gives federal agents broad new powers to detain immigrants, eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mail, and share sensitive details of criminal investigations with the CIA.

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