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Justice Department decries 'terrorist tipoff' amendment

House, however, calls secret searches the 'sneak-and-peek' law

From Terry Frieden
CNN Producer

The Justice Department sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, saying it plans to fight the congressional effort to dismiss the law that allows delayed notification of search warrants in certain cases.
The Justice Department sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, saying it plans to fight the congressional effort to dismiss the law that allows delayed notification of search warrants in certain cases.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department blasted the House of Representatives for voting to end what many lawmakers call the "sneak-and-peek" law, which allows law enforcement to secretly search homes of suspected terrorists.

Justice, in turn, has labeled the measure passed by the House to end the practice the "terrorist tipoff" amendment.

The department sent a four-page unsigned letter on Friday to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, which signaled it intends to fight the congressional effort to dismiss the law that allows delayed notification of search warrants in certain cases.

Section 213 of the Patriot Act, rooted in a 1978 foreign intelligence surveillance law, grants federal agents the right to search the homes of suspected terrorists and spies with secret court approval but without prior notice to the suspect.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. C. L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho, was passed on a 309-to-118 vote with support from members of both parties, wary of the potential abuse of secret searches.

Now Justice Department officials hope the measure will be killed by the Senate or a joint conference committee.

"The Otter amendment, better termed the terrorist tipoff amendment, would have a devastating effect on our ongoing efforts to detect and prevent terrorism as well as combat other serious crimes," the Justice Department letter said.

The letter to Hastert, R-Illinois, charged the lawmakers "hastily adopted" the measure "based partly on inaccurate information."

Although the House late Friday began a summer recess that will last until after Labor Day, Justice officials said they sent the letter and released it publicly for tactical reasons.

"We did not want the false arguments that apparently swayed many House members to go unchallenged for five weeks," said Justice spokesman Mark Corallo.

Justice officials are notably upset about new advertisements from the American Civil Liberties Union that include the assertion the law "allows government agents to secretly search your house and not even tell you."

The ACLU is trumpeting the House vote as "overwhelmingly bipartisan congressional repudiation of anti-privacy and anti-civil liberties provisions of a controversial law."


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