View Full Version : Senators Introduce Bill To Make Wiretaps Admissable In Court

03-09-2006, 10:28 PM
Bill Tackles Eavesdropping Admissibility


Friday March 10, 2006 12:01 AM
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Four moderate Republican senators have put together legislation that is raising questions about whether information from federal wiretaps started without a judge's approval can be used in court, as the bill's chief sponsor favors.

The proposal is aimed at ending the dispute over President Bush's warrantless surveillance program. But legal and civil liberties experts said Thursday the measure ultimately could cause further controversy about how the information collected is used in terrorism prosecutions.

The Associated Press obtained a draft of bill, which is expected to be introduced soon by Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The senators have said the bill is designed to provide more protection from terrorists attacks. Ultimately, federal judges will decide how the program's information - obtained without a warrant - is used in legal proceedings, said DeWine, a former county prosecutor who has spearheaded the legislation.

Mike Dawson, a senior policy adviser to DeWine, said the bill is intended to get the secretly obtained information into court. ``The intelligence officials have to have probable cause before they start to obtain that information, which is why we think it's constitutional,'' he said.

But David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the use of such information in judicial proceedings would violate the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

``The problem - in this new strange environment - is that the government would probably claim the circumstances under which this information was collected was classified, and neither the court nor the defendant can look into the circumstances,'' Sobel said.

After the Bush administration's surveillance program was disclosed in December, some legal experts predicted that any constitutionally suspect information could jeopardize terrorism cases.

At least one person convicted in such a case, Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris, has since asked a federal judge to throw out the charges against him. U.S. officials have credited Bush's eavesdropping program with unraveling Faris' failed plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

In a second case, the Justice Department on Thursday responded to a judge's order to disclose whether information collected under the surveillance program was used against Ahmed Omar Abu Ali. The U.S. citizen was convicted last year of joining al-Qaida and plotting to assassinate the president.

Prosecutors said the filing could not be made public because it contained classified information.

Under DeWine's bill, no information gleaned from the surveillance program could be used by federal officials, ``except for lawful purposes.'' It says the information could be used to get a warrant, distributed among government agencies or presented as evidence in a criminal proceeding.

The bill was negotiated with the administration and has the general support of the White House, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The government would have up to 45 days to monitor calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists when one party is in the U.S. and the other is overseas. Like Bush's existing presidential order, the government would not have to get court approval.

After 45 days, federal officials would have to stop the eavesdropping, seek a warrant or explain to House and Senate subcommittees why the monitoring must continue the way it is.

Without waiting for a new law, Roberts' committee this week formed a subcommittee of seven lawmakers to begin overseeing the program. They received their first briefing in the White House situation room on Thursday.

Tom Newcomb, who spent 25 years in national security in all three branches of government, said the bill raises a number of questions.

For instance, the legislation allows the surveillance of terrorist groups on a list written by the president. But it does not address the issue of a ``lone wolf'' planning an attack, said Newcomb, now at Tiffen University in Ohio.

It also doesn't deal with a group whose name is not known.

``The bottom line there is those groups represent just as great a danger to our national security as those who have a label,'' Newcomb said.