Door may open for challenge to secret wiretaps

Five years after Congress authorized a sweeping warrantless surveillance program, the Justice Department is setting up a potential Supreme Court test of whether it is constitutional by notifying a criminal defendant — for the first time — that evidence against him derived from the eavesdropping, according to officials.

Prosecutors plan to inform the defendant about the monitoring in the next two weeks, a law enforcement official said. The move comes after an internal Justice Department debate in which Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued that there was no legal basis for a previous practice of not disclosing links to such surveillance, several Obama administration officials familiar with the deliberations said.

Meanwhile, the department’s National Security Division is combing active and closed case files to identify other defendants who faced evidence resulting from the 2008 wiretapping law. It permits eavesdropping without warrants on Americans’ cross-border phone calls and e-mails so long as the surveillance is “targeted” at foreigners abroad.