Governor Calls for 'Cyber Court'

Declan McCullagh, Oct. 18, 2001,2100,47676,00.html

WASHINGTON -- Malicious hackers, look out.

A government anti-terrorism commission will recommend that Congress create a shadowy court to oversee investigations of suspected computer intruders. Gov. James Gilmore (R-Virginia), the commission's chairman, said Wednesday that federal judges have been far too sluggish in approving search warrants and eavesdropping of online miscreants. Instead, Gilmore told the House Science committee, the commission will recommend that a "cyber court" be created with extraordinary powers to authorize electronic surveillance and secret searches of suspected hackers' homes and offices.

Police investigations are currently hamstrung by a lack of "effective procedures and understanding by many in the judiciary concerning the nature and urgency of cyber security," Gilmore said.

Wednesday's hearing comes after members of the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly last week to grant police more surveillance powers, including the ability to conduct Internet wiretaps without court orders in some circumstances. President Bush asked Congress for the legislation after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Michigan) suggested additional punitive measures. "I think hackers should also be considered terrorists and sentences that hackers get should be in line with terrorist sentences," Ehlers said.
Gilmore offered few details on the proposal to create a hacker-court. A House press release says only that the commission will recommend the "establishment of a special 'Cyber Court' patterned after the court established in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." The so-called FISA court is notorious among civil libertarians for being a secret, seven-judge court that meets behind closed doors to approve surveillance requests in "national security" cases. Proceedings are sealed and judges do not require "probable cause" -- a legal standard required in ordinary investigations -- before ordering eavesdropping or surreptitious entries to plant listening devices. Congress created the FISA court in 1978 to oversee foreign intelligence investigations that were too sensitive to take through the normal process. The FISA judges review the Justice Department's requests and, with the exception of one or two cases, have always approved them. Because the FISA court meets in secret, and its orders are sealed, subjects are often unaware they're under surveillance.

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