How Do You Prove You Were Warrantlessly Wiretapped If It's A Secret?

from the the-amazing-legal-obstacle-course dept

As we continue to debate the question of telco immunity, there’s a separate, but related legal issue that’s worth paying attention to as well: the question of who can actually sue about having their rights abused by supposedly warrantless wiretaps. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that various groups such as the ACLU couldn’t sue because they had no “standing” (i.e., proof that they were impacted by the warrantless wiretaps). It’s a bit convoluted when you think about it: there’s no way to determine if illegal spying took place because the only way you could get the evidence would be to first prove you have the evidence that it took place. But if you think that’s twisted, it gets even more bizarre.

It turns out that in one related case, the government accidentally sent over proof that it used a warrantless wiretap to monitor a certain group. Thus, that group can actually show it has standing… sorta. One of the lawyers involved in pushing just such a lawsuit forward has a stunning tale explaining the amazing obstacle course he had to traverse to actually have this lawsuit move forward (and it’s not over yet). Basically, the government claims the information in the document is still secret, even though it gave it out, and some of the details have been reported on the news (in business contexts once info is out, it’s no longer secret — apparently, not so with the government).

Where things get really bizarre, though, is in how the lawyers on this case can actually deal with this evidence it has. Basically, they had to destroy all copies they had of the evidence in question, and can sort of obliquely refer to it from memory in secret filings that are written under the watchful eye of the Justice Department, officially to make sure that the “classified info” remains classified. Even better, the lawyers had to respond to a secret filing from the Justice Department that the lawyers weren’t even allowed to see. The case is far from over — as the latest ruling basically set up another ridiculous tightrope for the lawyers to walk — basically saying that they can’t use the evidence in the document because it would prove their case. Instead, they first have to prove it without the document, and then if they do that, they can use the document (after it’s basically no longer necessary). And there’s all sorts of side amusements, such as reading about how the Justice Department tries to destroy the lawyer’s computer to make sure there’s no secret documents on there (it’s like a scene from a bad comedy, where they discover that simply banging a hard drive on a table isn’t an effective way to damage it). And, there’s also the bit where the Justice Department refuses to let one lawyer take part in the drafting of the secret filing because they just don’t like him.

This has gone way beyond protecting state secrets or providing security and protection to American Citizens. As you read the details, it’s quite clear this is about doing whatever possible to hide what was almost certainly an illegal move by the administration. If telecom immunity is granted, then this particular case, Al Haramain v. Bush, would basically be the only case left that looks into the legality of warrantless wiretapping. Say what you want about the importance of protecting US citizens, the American Constitution set up a system of checks and balances for a very good reason: so no single group has enough power to make the rules itself. This whole thing shows how the executive branch is trying to guarantee there are no checks or balances on some of its activities. That’s a very scary precedent and on that anyone — no matter what your political persuasion — should be against.

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Comments on “How Do You Prove You Were Warrantlessly Wiretapped If It's A Secret?”

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exnav says:

clas is clas and unclas is unclas

Having served, and served in an area with much clas mat (classified material), I can actually understand some of the logic here. When a piece of information gets classified by our uncle (sam) it stays that way until the classifying authority (the head of whatever govt agency classified it in the first place) declares it to be declassified (unclas). It doesn’t matter what the info is or what medium it is on. I worked on classified hardware. Now, classified information can be compromised (released to people who are not cleared, or have no need to know), but that does NOT declassify it. That just makes it compromised classified information. It still must be treated as classified, even by regular folks like you and I. It sounds to me like the laywers need to go through the process of getting a government security clearance high enough to be permitted to see what they need to see. Certainly they have a need to know. See, with classified information you need to have both the appropriate clearance AND the need to know in order to be privy to classified info.

DCX2 says:

On Standing

One of the major issues I have with standing is that a surveillance state has a chilling effect on free speech. After the new FISA bill is signed into law, I will be much more careful about what I say online because I know the feds will be listening. This ought to be a de facto example of harm; that anyone who feels the chilling effect of the surveillance state ought to have standing to file suit.

The one ray of hope I see is that in Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in al-Haramain v. Bush, he repeated uses the term “aggrieved persons”. It is my hope that an aggrieved person is somehow a lesser burden of proof than standing.

For instance, given the evidence presented by Mark Klein in Hepting vs. ATT (that all information going over AT&T’s WorldNet fibers is being copied into a room which only the NSA has access to), it should be reasonable to assume that anyone who transmits any bits over AT&T’s fibers in San Francisco was illegally tapped. This should count as the necessary evidence for the lawyers for al-Haramain.

Anonymous Poster says:

This is so fucking sad, it’s not even funny.

194 days and counting…I can’t wait until this administration is out of office so we can all (figuratively) hang them. This is exactly the kind of thing our representatives should be fighting AGAINST, not FOR.

Stupid telco money buying their votes…

CM says:

Why the Telco's?

I am very ignorant on this matter; can someone please explain to mean the Telco’s role in all this. I would have assumed that they are the medium by which the government is conducting these taps, but I seem to keep reading a more sinister role in a lot of these articles and comments, but I don’t understand why.

Whats the Telco’s role in all this?


Mike (profile) says:

Re: Why the Telco's?

I am very ignorant on this matter; can someone please explain to mean the Telco’s role in all this. I would have assumed that they are the medium by which the government is conducting these taps, but I seem to keep reading a more sinister role in a lot of these articles and comments, but I don’t understand why.

The government asked them to provide direct access to various communications channels, without a warrant. The proper response from the telcos would be to point out that a warrant is needed.

Instead, they (with the exception of Qwest) provided the taps.

rso says:

what's the point?

assuming the official version of events on 9/11 are true, Bin Laden practically sent a direct email to Bush/Cheney telling them he was going to attack, complete with all the particulars. But, they had no idea someone would fly a plane into the WTC, according to Rice. So, how likely is it that they would act on any info gained from these wiretaps?

Secondly, anyone over the age of 10 in this country knows the correct response to law enforcement’s request top search (or tap) is “do you have a warrant?”. No one is pointing out that teleco immunity WAS available to them – had they asked for and received a warrant.

Opressed Masses says:

It's not just the current administration.

The freedoms that were established in the founding documents of this country have been getting systematically trampled, for over 70 years. I don’t think Bush and/or his cronies are any better or that much worse than other administrations. If you want to look at a real abuse of power look at how the Supreme Court has been corrupted by it’s own power over that same time frame. Congress is no better, with the litany of gross corruption from special interests to the out right lies they all tell to get re-elected. Everyone should know how far they have strayed from what was once an equitable system. Read the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence and you will see that today most of what the government does is completely against those core concepts of liberty those documents guarantee us. It makes me sick that people always try to blame one person or small group for all that is wrong, while completely ignoring recent history showing how the whole system is broken. Impeach em all and then let’s start over.

GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

Stunned after RTFA.

If you did not read the Salon piece, you need to.

After stepping back a bit and reflecting, it has become apparent to me this situation, along with the TSA treating everyone like criminals, new laws having to be crafted for Telco Immunity and a host of other Orwellian developments during the last 8 years, are all symptomatic of what happens when a free people lack the collective courage to aggressively take on and destroy an external threat, enemy or evil.

Lacking that resolve and courage to confront and destroy the evil they face, they inevitably turn on each other, taking and surrendering their freedoms, thus ending up morphing into the very image of the dictatorial evil they feared in the first place.

Wake up fellow citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Just a matter of Time

Yeah, we’re going to end up that way regardless of a “terrorist” attack. Didn’t you see how Bush and his asshats edited the EPA reports?

He couldn’t stop 9/11 despite blatant evidence it was going to happen. What was his initial reaction? The same thing he did throughout his entire life, hid like a little bitch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Just a matter of Time

The only terrorists we need protection from are those currently running our “government.” The only cry-babies here are those pussies like you, who think we should hide behind our government nanny’s apron, and believe that the Bush administration has the best interest of the citizens in mind. The only citizens whose best interest are in mind are those of Bush, Cheney and their fear-mongering friends. They clearly have you fooled, weasel.

JB says:


Just try to imagine the USA without government secrets…

Military: We are planning an attack on the opposition.
Opposition: Attack first, or simply move elsewhere.

NSA: We are acquiring a warrant to tap a suspected terrorist’s phone line.
Suspected Terrorist: Change plans to avoid NSA’s tap.

If there were no secrets, then there would be no security.
Sure the government should admit when it was wrong, but it should not be forced to reveal secrets that could protect Americans.

Where have the leaders gone? says:

The outcome of these efforts are perverse

I’m going off the road a little here, but it’s about the children, right? Some theories suggest that Womens Lib really about getting the women into the workforce so the government could collect taxes. As a result, there’s a problem within the family unit where there’s lack of responsibility for children. The government is obligated to step in which leads to indoctrination via school and no child is left behind, (and later) implementation of government-sponsored protections for them.

The outcome of these efforts are perverse. So in my opinion, the problems lies in the fact only the ‘positive’ side of family deterioration is on government’s ability to collect tax revenue, and this in turn elevates jobs and employment above family activities, thusly family values and activities are moved to the negative side, while in the real world they can not be separated as core family values are necessary to maintain an economy based on integrity. When a government can know a child better than a parent (via warrantless tapping, scanning of emails, and obtaining school records and library records) this itself is extremely bad for long term integrity of a nation.

All this leads to a perverse incentive, and it seems to me that one should either include both (where obtained information is shared and maintained with legal guardians) or none of the efforts.

Anonymous Nolife says:


Anyone who objects to wiretapping obviously have something to hide. Its not like the feds etc spend time listening to your recipe, gossips, buying stuff, or sexual relations. Nor do they have the resources to monitor every. What they do is use a system that picks up certain keywords spoken such as terrorist or Osama etc. If you’re talking politics on the phone, then maybe they’ll see what your up to. Other than that, they wouldn’t care what you talk about. I say its perfectly fine unless they like to join in on a threesome 😉

Ralph says:

Re: Orly

There’s little point in explaining this yet again to morons, but here goes: This goes beyond “having something to hide” — it comes down to allowing the government to spy on you for any reason. Maybe the next administration won’t like white people, or people who engage in phone sex, or people who aren’t Christian Evangelicals. Will it be okay for the government to spy on you then? Who’s watching over WHY the government is spying on you?

If you’re too stupid to understand this, then you’re getting the government you deserve — the one we have now, the one that thinks you’re stupid.

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