The Supreme Court refused Monday to be drawn into a dispute over the boundaries of a law giving the government broader surveillance authority after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations wanted the justices to consider when the government should be allowed to monitor someone's telephone conversations and e-mail, then use the information to prosecute them.
The Bush administration has argued that surveillance, and a special court that oversees sensitive domestic espionage tactics, are indispensable tools in the war on terror.
The ACLU used an unusual maneuver to get the case to the Supreme Court, filing an appeal on behalf of people who don't even know they're being monitored. The justices would have had to give special permission to allow it. They refused, without comment.
The action was not a ruling on the merits of the ACLU's challenge, and the issue is expected to return to the high court later.
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Ashcroft has approved more than 170 emergency domestic spying warrants, triple the number used in the previous 23 years.
The emergency warrants, which are authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, permit authorities to tap telephones and fax numbers and conduct physical searches for up to 72 hours before they are subject to review by the special, secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. [Privacy Digest]