Utah Judge Joins Surveillance Court

Utah Judge Joins Surveillance Court

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah's chief federal judge Dee Benson has been appointed to an 11-member intelligence surveillance court in the nation's capital.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist appointed Benson to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews governmental requests to perform electronic surveillance without a regular warrant.

The court's powers were expanded under the Patriot Act, which allows the government to snoop on any suspected terrorist; previous law limited warrant-less surveillance to "agents of foreign powers."

Benson said the court wasn't as secretive as it has been portrayed but needs to conduct hearings in private to ensure national security.

The American Civil Liberties Union calls the court an "end-run" on the Fourth Amendment, which regulates the government's power of search and seizure.

Benson will serve on the court until May 2011. He said he and the other judges will rotate on a roughly weekly basis to hear cases and that he will be making the trip to Washington, D.C., about once every 10 weeks.

The number of secret surveillance warrants obtained from the surveillance court has surpassed the number of wiretaps sought by law-enforcement in cases such as drug trafficking and racketeering.

According to U.S. Justice Department figures released May 1, federal agents sought 1,727 warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2003. Only four applications were rejected, and two of those were later revised and approved. In 2001, 934 surveillance court applications were approved.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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