TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Judge Rules Warentless Spying is Unconstitutional

Judge Rules Warentless Spying is Unconstitutional

Sarah Karush, AP (
Thu, 17 Aug 2006 15:37:37 -0500

Judge nixes warrantless surveillance
By SARAH KARUSH, Associated Press Writer

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless
surveillance program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt
to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first
judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she
says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the
separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

"Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this
matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her
43-page opinion.

The Justice Department appealed the ruling and issued a statement
calling the program "an essential tool for the intelligence community
in the war on terror."

White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Bush administration
"couldn't disagree more with this ruling."

"United States intelligence officials have confirmed that the program
has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives," he said.
"The program is carefully administered and only targets international
phone calls coming into or out of the United States where one of the
parties on the call is a suspected al-Qaida or affiliated terrorist."

The ruling won't take immediate effect so Taylor can hear a Justice
request for a stay pending its appeal. A hearing on the motion was set
for Sept. 7, Snow said.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of
journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it
difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their
overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, monitoring phone
calls and e-mails between people in the U.S. and people in other
countries when a link to terrorism is suspected.

The government argued that the program is well within the president's
authority, but said proving that would require revealing state

The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the
Bush administration already had publicly revealed enough information
about the program for Taylor to rule.

"At its core, today's ruling addresses the abuse of presidential power
and reaffirms the system of checks and balances that's necessary to
our democracy," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told reporters
after the ruling.

He called the opinion "another nail in the coffin in the Bush
administration's legal strategy in the war on terror."

While siding with the ACLU on the surveillance issue, Taylor dismissed
a separate claim by the group over NSA data-mining of phone
records. She said not enough had been publicly revealed about that
program to support the claim and further litigation would jeopardize
state secrets.

The lawsuit alleged that the NSA "uses artificial intelligence aids to
search for keywords and analyze patterns in millions of communications
at any given time." Multiple lawsuits have been filed related to
data-mining against phone companies, accusing them of improperly
turning over records to the NSA.

However, the data-mining was only a small part of the Detroit suit,
said Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director and the lead
attorney on the case.

Beeson predicted the government would appeal the wiretapping ruling
and request that the order to halt the program be postponed while the
case makes its way through the system. She said the ACLU had not yet
decided whether it would oppose such a postponement.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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