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Patriot Act search law struck down

A federal judge struck down a key surveillance provision of the USA Patriot Act on Wednesday, ruling that it broadly violated the Constitution by giving federal authorities unchecked powers to obtain private information.

The ruling, by Judge Victor Marrero of federal court in Manhattan, was the first to uphold a challenge to the surveillance sections of the act, which was adopted in October 2001 to expand the powers of the federal government in national security investigations.

The ruling assails one piece of the law, finding that it violates both free speech and unreasonable search protections, and is likely to provide fuel for other court challenges.

The ruling came in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against a kind of subpoena created under the act, known as a national security letter. Such letters required Internet service companies to provide personal information about their subscribers and barred them from disclosing to anyone that they had received the subpoena.

Such subpoenas could be issued without court review, under provisions that seemed to bar those who received it from discussing it with a lawyer.

Marrero vehemently rejected the provision, saying that it was unique in American law in its "all-inclusive sweep" and had "no place in our open society."

He ordered that his ruling would not take effect for 90 days, to give the Bush administration time to appeal.

House overturns D.C. weapons bans

WASHINGTON _ The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to repeal virtually all of the District of Columbia's gun laws, urged by gun rights groups to deliver a victory before the November election over the vehement objections of Washington leaders who denounced what they called a historic violation of home rule.

Voting 250-171, the House approved the D.C Personal Protection Act, which would end the District's ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons, roll back registration requirements for ammunition and other firearms and decriminalize possession of unregistered weapons and carrying a gun in one's home or workplace.

The bill goes to the Senate, where it has almost no chance of passage.

Study: Global warming stirs hurricanes

Global warming is likely to produce a significant increase in the intensity and rainfall of hurricanes in coming decades, according to the most comprehensive computer analysis done so far.

By the 2080s, seas warmed by rising atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases could cause a typical hurricane to intensify about an extra half step on the five-step scale of destructive power, says the study, done on supercomputers at the Commerce Department's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. Rainfall up to 60 miles from the core would be nearly 20 percent more intense.

Sweep targets 18 Mafia suspects

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. _ Eighteen people, including the alleged No. 2 man in the Gambino crime family, were indicted Wednesday after an investigation into organized crime in Connecticut, Rhode Island and suburban New York.

Anthony "The Genius" Megale, a Stamford man believed to be the highest-ranking Mafia member in Connecticut, was arraigned on a 46-count federal indictment charging him with racketeering, extortion and illegal gambling.

Fifteen of the 18 people were arrested Wednesday. Investigators were searching for the others, including Igazio Alogna, an alleged Mafia captain, and Vincent Fiore, an alleged Gambino soldier from Goshen, N.Y., both charged with attempted extortion.

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