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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
US court rejects anti-terror law
US soldiers escort a captive at the US naval base in Cuba.
The US has been accused of ignoring suspects' rights

The US Justice Department has lost a court battle over new rules governing the covert surveillance of terrorism suspects.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court - a body whose rulings have in the past always been secret - disclosed that it had told the justice department to alter its practices.

The department is to appeal against the decision.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft
Ashcroft has pushed for more police powers

The issue of civil rights in the wake of 11 September is now reaching some of the highest courts in America, and the Bush administration is not having an easy ride.

In this case, the Foreign Surveillance Court - normally regarded as sympathetic to the government - rejected the justice department's arguments.

At issue is whether or not it is acceptable for ordinary criminal police to get access to information gleaned from wiretaps authorised under anti-terrorism legislation.

The Attorney General, John Ashcroft, says it is.

Constitutional rights

The court says it is not acceptable, because anti-terrorist wiretaps are easier to obtain so ordinary criminal suspects are having their activities monitored without the police having to show proper evidence that they should be watched.

The justice department's appeal against the decision will be the first time that a US administration has tried to overturn a surveillance court ruling.

Civil liberties groups are hoping that that appeal will fail.

They believe that John Ashcroft is using legislation passed since 11 September to pry into the lives of US citizens, in a manner that breaches their fundamental constitutional rights.

This ruling appears to back their case.


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01 Aug 02 | Americas
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