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.