Court Allows Warrantless Wiretapping During Appeal

Associated Press
Thursday, October 5, 2006

CINCINNATI, Oct. 4 -- The Bush administration can continue its warrantless surveillance program while it appeals a judge's ruling that the program is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday.

The president has said the program is needed to fight terrorism. Opponents argue that it oversteps constitutional boundaries on free speech, privacy and executive powers.

The unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit gave little explanation for the decision. In the three-paragraph ruling, judges said that they balanced the likelihood an appeal would succeed, the potential damage to both sides, and the public interest.

The Bush administration applauded the decision.

"We are pleased to see that it will be allowed to continue while the Court of Appeals examines the trial court's decision, with which we strongly disagree," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.

The program monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspects of having links to terrorism. A secret court has been set up to grant warrants for such surveillance, but the government says it cannot always wait for a court to take action.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit ruled Aug. 17 that the program is unconstitutional because it violates the rights to free speech and privacy, as well as the separation of powers.

The Justice Department had urged the appeals court to allow it to keep the program in place while it argues its appeal, saying the nation faces "potential irreparable harm" and would be more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. The appeal is likely to take months.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in January seeking to stop the program on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say it has made it difficult for them to do their jobs because they believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets.

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