Secret Court Will Provide Judiciary Committee With Copy of Wiretapping Ruling

The expansion of the Justice Department's wiretapping powers under the Patriot Act is causing some concern in Congress.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- One of the nation's most secret courts has assured senators that it will reveal to them its decision on whether the Justice Department should have more power to wiretap suspected terrorists and spies.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review told the Senate Judiciary Committee it will send them an unclassified copy of its decision on whether the Justice Department has gone beyond the limits of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in its wiretapping requests.

Senators want to know the secret court's ruling so they could know how prosecutors are using the additional powers Congress granted after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"As soon as we have an opinion completed, I will be sure to see that you get an unclassified copy," said U.S. Appeals Court Judge Ralph Guy, a member of the review court, in a Wednesday letter to the Judiciary Committee.

For the first time in its 24-year existence, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review met to review a Justice Department request to use espionage wiretaps for criminal operations.

Its lower court in August struck down a Justice Department surveillance request and its assertion that it can use Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wiretaps for criminal as well as espionage operations. The Justice Department appealed the decision to the higher court.

The appeals court made no announcement of whether it had made a decision or whether it would be made public.

But senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee immediately asked the court to make its decision public. Lawmakers are arguing over whether the anti-terrorism law they passed after the Sept. 11 attacks gave the Justice Department permission to expand its espionage wiretapping activities.

"We need to know how this law is being interpreted and applied," Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Tuesday.

The Justice Department says the USA Patriot Act changed the surveillance law to permit its use when collecting information about foreign spies or terrorists when it is "a significant purpose," rather than "the purpose," of such an investigation. Previously, the FISA wiretaps could only be used for foreign intelligence investigations and not criminal investigations.

Democrats say they didn't intend to expand the wiretapping powers to criminal investigations, while Republicans insist that it's what the law intended.

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