By an interesting coincidence -- if it was a coincidence -- a little known United States court released a judgement this week that validates one of the most controversial parts of President Bush's anti-terrorism legislation. Under the Protect America Act Mr Bush was given authority to collect international phone calls and e-mail messages in order to identify possible terrorist connections without obtaining the individual warrants required under earlier legislation. The law was severely criticised in Congress by Democrats who blocked its renewal although a revised version with additional safeguards was passed last year.

In a hitherto secret ruling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review found that Congress had acted within its authority when it passed the protect America Act and gave the executive the power to eavesdrop on international communications. Although this ruling did not address directly the legality of the once-secret operation introduced by President Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, it appeared to validate the principle used in both cases. This is the first time that the Surveillance Court has ruled on the constitutional issue of the president's wiretapping powers; the Court seldom makes a public release of its conclusions and the fact that it has done so in the final week of George W Bush's presidency, on a matter over which he was widely criticised, has raised quite a few eyebrows.


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