Court Says President Bush Violated Wiretapping Laws With Warrantless Wiretap

from the wow dept

In a huge ruling, a court has said that the US government violated wiretapping laws in eavesdropping on phone calls without a warrant.

If you haven't been following the fight over the legality of warrantless wiretapping, this case, involving lawyers working with the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, is extremely important. When it was revealed that the Bush administration was wiretapping phonecalls without a warrant, lawsuits were filed -- but the "problem" was that the parties (such as the ACLU) that filed the lawsuits didn't have "standing" because they had no evidence that they, personally, were impacted by the warrantless wiretapping. This created a ridiculous Catch-22 situation. As long as the government hid its illegal activities and never said who it spied on, it could spy on anyone illegally. No one could bring a lawsuit, since there was no proof that they had been impacted by the illegal spying.

Then the feds screwed up. They accidentally sent the evidence of wiretapping some lawyers for the Al-Haramain group to those lawyers. Suddenly there was evidence. But, of course, the government tried to cover it up. For a while it claimed that even though it had revealed that it had illegally spied on these lawyers, and everyone knew it, since those documents were classified, everyone had to pretend that it was still a secret and no one knew about it. This resulted in a series of positively ridiculous hoops that lawyers had to jump through to bring the case, without actually using the document.

Thankfully, even as the Obama administration continued to support the Bush's administration's position that this lawsuit should not move forward, the courts disagreed and allowed the case to move forward although the document in question wasn't allowed to be used.

However, the judge, who was clearly annoyed by the administration's stalling tactics, said that even without the document, there was enough evidence that the federal government violated wiretapping laws:
"Plaintiffs must, and have, put forward enough evidence to establish a prima facie case that they were subjected to warrantless electronic surveillance," U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled, in a landmark decision. Even without the classified document, the judge said he believed the lawyers "were subjected to unlawful electronic surveillance" (.pdf) in violation of the Foreign Terror Surveillance Act, which requires warrants in terror investigations.
Beyond that, the judge called the administration's method of dealing with the case as "argumentative acrobatics," and even suggested that those suing could ask for monetary damages.

This is a huge victory against illegal government surveillance. There is simply no excuse for the government to violate its own laws, especially when it comes to infringing on the privacy rights of American citizens. There is a well-established process for obtaining legal wiretap warrants. There is no excuse for going around that process, other than that the government knows it's doing something wrong. Thankfully, the judge recognized that in this case.

Filed Under: judgements, warrantless wiretapping

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  1. identicon
    Jimmy, 31 Mar 2010 @ 1:54pm


    So you think allowing the constituion and privacy rights to be shredded is ok as long as the problem to be solved is big enough ? Where does it end ? Why not rip up the constitution and allow the government to do whatever they want to maintain control. Everytime u turn around a new law is inacted which treads on our rights. You have to wear a seatbelt so insurance companies can protect their profits. You should reserch the number of wiretaps the FBI conducted againts everyday americans using the patriot act. They used it to investigate everyone and anyone for any reason. Don't take my word for it. Go check for yourself. You honestlt think the government cares about your well being. They care about money and power and how to get it and protect it at any cost.

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