The Supreme Court rejected on Monday a case that challenged how the government spies on terror suspects in America, a blow to people who say the administration has used the Sept. 11 terror attacks to encroach on personal freedoms.
Issues that have inspired the court challenges include government spying, secret detentions, confidential deportation hearings, imprisonment of wartime prisoners without lawyers and access to suspected foreign terrorists held at undisclosed overseas locations.
The administration has argued in courts that national security justifies aggressive terror-fighting strategy, and judges have only limited authority to interfere.
At issue in the ACLU case are wiretaps approved by the supersecret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or "spy court," which deals with intelligence requests involving suspected spies, terrorists and foreign agents.
The spy court has approved thousands of warrants since it was established by Congress in 1978 and only rarely turns down the government.
In testimony to Congress earlier this month, Ashcroft said there were more than 1,000 applications in 2002 for warrants under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Since the 2001 terror attacks, Ashcroft personally has approved more than 170 emergency domestic spying warrants, authorized by the FISA and expanded by the USA Patriot Act.
That's triple the number of emergency warrants used in the FISA's previous 23 years. The warrants let authorities tap telephones and fax numbers and conduct physical searches for up to 72 hours before they are subject to the spy court's review.