"Secret Court OKs Broad Wiretap Powers"

Did we ever think we would see such a headline describing events in the land of the free?

The headline is from yesterday's Reuters story, covering developments little noticed and less remarked upon by those people once described as free.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a victory for the Bush administration, a secretive appeals court Monday ruled the U.S. government has the right to use expanded powers to wiretap terrorism suspects under a law adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The ruling was a blow to civil libertarians who say the expanded powers, which allow greater leeway in conducting electronic surveillance and in using information obtained from the wiretaps and searches, jeopardize constitutional rights.

In a 56-page ruling overturning a May opinion by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the three-judge appeals court panel said the Patriot Act gave the government the right to expanded powers.

Horrible. Secret appeals court overturns secret court ruling in secret hearing and there is no appeal. The decision threatens, or rather wipes out, some of the most fundamental constitutional rights of citizenship.
The appeal hearing was not public, and only the Justice Department's top appellate lawyer, Theodore Olson, presented arguments.

Although the court allowed "friend of the court" briefs to be filed by civil liberties groups and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, since the Justice Department was the only party the ruling can likely not be appealed.

"This is a major Constitutional decision that will affect every American's privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court," [said Ann Beeson of the American Civil Liberties Union].