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New surveillance act does not authorize warrantless domestic searches: DOJ

[JURIST] US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein [official profile], head of the US Department of Justice's National Security Division (NSD) [official website], is seeking to reassure members of Congress that the Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials] is not over-broad and will not allow government authorities to conduct warrantless domestic searches, the Washington Post reported Saturday. The Protect America Act gives the Executive Branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [EFF Q/A] establishing judicial oversight of domestic wiretapping. In a letter sent to Congress Friday, Wainstein reiterated the Bush administration's position that the new legislation, which "could be read to authorize the collection of business records of individuals in the United States," will not be used for such surveillance. Wainstein also indicated that the administration is open to revisiting the legislation to address concerns by critics that the legislation allows domestic warrantless physical searches.

Critics allege that the the Protect America Act, passed [JURIST report] by Congress in August, does not sufficiently narrow the scope of surveillance because it authorizes electronic surveillance as long as the investigation concerns a "person" outside of the United States. The Center of Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] has already filed a legal challenge to the law, contending it violates the Fourth Amendment [press release; JURIST report] because it removes judicial oversight for spying and "leaves it to the executive branch to monitor itself." The Washington Post has more.

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