Obama Claims Immunity, As New
Stage Spy Case Takes Center
- By David Kravets
- July 15, 2009 |
- 12:00 am |
- Categories: NSA, Surveillance, The Courts, politics, privacy
The Jewel v. NSA lawsuit was filed in September by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It responded to 2008 federal legislation that immunized the nation’s telecommunications companies from suits challenging their complicity in the President’s Surveillance Program. The EFF redrafted its earlier case against the telcos to target the government for funneling Americans’ communications to the National Security Agency without warrants.
In court filings, the administration says the suit (.pdf) “would require or risk the disclosure of information that is properly subject to the state secrets privilege and related statutory privileges.” The administration claims it’s shielded by sovereign immunity, in addition to citing the controversial state secrets privilege.
All the while, the EFF maintains the dragnet surveillance (.pdf) continues unabated under Obama.
“Using this shadow network of surveillance devices, defendants have acquired and continue to acquire the content of a significant portion of the phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, text messages, web communications and other communications, both international and domestic, of practically every American who uses the phone system or the internet,” the EFF wrote in its lawsuit.
The civil liberties group told Judge Walker the spying is as an “unprecedented, suspicionless general search through the nation’s communications.”
Congress adopted legislation immunizing the telecommunication companies after Walker ruled the EFF’s case against the telecommunication companies could proceed, despite the government’s assertion of the state secrets privilege. The law compelled
Both EFF lawsuits are based on a former AT&T technician’s documentation of a secret room in AT&T’s Folsom Street central office in
“With both lawsuits, it’s the same underlying factual theory: The secret room on Folsom,” Cindy Cohn, the EFF’s legal director, said in a telephone interview. “If it was illegal for AT&T to hand this information over to the government, it was illegal for the government to get this information from AT&T,” Cohn added.
The government declined comment on the litigation.
Bush publicly claimed the Terror Surveillance program, adopted in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks, was limited to American’s electronic communications with people overseas the government suspected were linked to terrorism. The immunity legislation approved last summer went on to legalize such warrantless spying, though Bush said his wartime powers were enough to authorize the surveillance. A Friday government report indicates Bush’s spying was much greater in scope than the former president admitted.
The EFF has a tough road ahead of it. A federal appeals court threw out a similar case two years ago, ruling the plaintiffs in that case could not prove their communications were siphoned to the NSA, and hence lacked standing to sue.
Another closely watched spy case before Judge Walker is shaping up to be the closest to a resolution.
That suit involves two American lawyers accidentally given a top-secret document showing they were eavesdropped on by the government when they worked for a now-defunct Islamic charity in 2004. The case tests whether a sitting
On September 1, Judge Walker will hold a court hearing on that question.
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