Anti-terror law used against hackers, thieves

Thursday, 22 May 2003, 11:05 AM EST

The enhanced search and surveillance powers Congress gave the Justice Department in the USA-PATRIOT Act haven't just been used in the war on terror: it turns out they're helpful in everything from spying on credit cards fraudsters to tracking down computer hackers.

On Tuesday lawmakers on the House Judiciary committee publicly released the Justice Department's written response to a laundry list of congressional questions probing law enforcement's use of the Act, which passed as an anti-terror measure in October 2001.

Though the questions were targeted at "the Department of Justice's efforts to combat terrorism," the answers displayed USA-PATRIOT's broader uses. One particularly versatile provision of the Act allows the FBI to use Carnivore-like tools to determine what Web sites an Internet user visits and with whom they correspond via e-mail. Agents can conduct such surveillance without a wiretap order or search warrant, as long as they certify that the intercepted information would be useful to a criminal investigation -- regardless of whether the surveillance target is suspected of wrongdoing himself.

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