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FISC changes to post-2001 Bush wiretap requests may have prompted end-run

[JURIST] The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [constituitive statute] substantively modified 179 Bush administration wiretap requests made after 2001, after declining to modify a single request in 20 of the 21 years between 1979 and 1999, according to an analysis of Justice Department statistics [FAS FISA materials] reported Tuesday by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The FISC also rejected or modified at least 6 warrant requests during 2003 and 2004. Administration requests for electronic and physical searches similarly rose from 3,436 in 1997 through 2000 to 5,645 applications from 2001 through 2004. FISC resistance to wiretap requests may have driven the Bush Administration to authorize [JURIST report; JURIST news archive] warrantless phone and email tracking of US residents, said James Bamford [Wikipedia profile], author of two books on the National Security Agency. According to the FISC statute, enacted in 1979, the Department of Justice must show "probable cause" that "the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power," and has committed acts that "may" involve a violation of criminal law in order to secure a wiretap. Referring to the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act administered by the FISC, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said [press briefing] last week that though "the FISA is very important in the war on terror...it doesn't provide the speed and the agility that we need in all circumstances to deal with this new kind of threat." A FISC judge has already resigned in protest [JURIST report] over the NSA domestic surveillance program, and the Bush administration has agreed to brief [JURIST report] the remaining judges on the scope of the program. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has more.

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