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Gonzales balks at releasing FISC order authorizing domestic surveillance

[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] Thursday that it is not "[his] decision" whether or not the Justice Department agrees to release the text of the order granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder] authorizing government surveillance of transmissions coming into or going outside of the country where one party was suspected of association with a terrorist organization. Gonzales notified the Committee of the order [JURIST report] via letter on Wednesday. Gonzales was unresponsive when ranking committee member Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) asked whether the order provides the FISC with blanket authority to approve all DOJ wiretap requests. During the oversight hearing [SJC materials], the committee released a letter from presiding FISC judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreeing to release any documents relating to FISC oversight of the domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive], pending approval from the Justice Department. Also on Thursday, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told the House Intelligence Committee that releasing the text of the order could implicate separation of power issues.

The Justice Department has not decided whether to drop its appeal [JURIST report] of an August district court decision [PDF text] declaring the NSA domestic surveillance program unconstitutional [JURIST report]. The case may now be moot, as Gonzales' letter [PDF text; JURIST report] makes clear that the program as challenged will no longer exist. In October, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled [text, PDF; JURIST report] that the program could continue to operate during the appeal process. AP has more.

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