Feds Appealing Ruling That Said Warrantless Wiretapping Was Illegal; Will This Backfire?

from the thought-they'd-let-it-drop dept

A year ago, a lot of folks were quite surprised when a court ruled that the federal government had violated wiretapping laws with its warrantless wiretapping campaign. The government had fought hard against the lawsuit at every turn, and went to ridiculous lengths to stall and even ignore the judge. The whole case revolved around the one situation in which the government revealed that it was wiretapping some people without the required warrant. Previous lawsuits over the program had been dropped, because without specific evidence from someone being spied on, no one actually had standing to sue. Yes, this is a bit Kafkaesque when you think about it. Basically, so long as the government keeps its illegal spying activity secret from those it's spying on, no one can take legal action to stop it.

However, in this one case, the government accidentally sent the proof to some lawyers, but then tried to pretend that the document was still "secret" and claimed "national security" reasons for why the proof could not be shown in court. The whole thing was yet another silly game of coverup. So it was big news last March when the government lost the case.

However, soon after that ruling, people started pointing out that the government might not appeal the case, because it could just "accept" the ruling, pay whatever fines, and then just go on doing what it was doing, since no one else could sue and there was nothing else to stop them. This thinking was given even more weight when the judge finally announced the awards to those who were spied on, and it amounted to pocket change.

So consider us surprised that the federal government has indicated it plans to appeal the ruling. It's entirely possible that it's only appealing on very specific and narrow grounds, but it does seem like an odd decision, and it makes me wonder if the government might not regret it if it ends up losing the appeal, and getting a more serious punishment.

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  • icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), 23 Feb 2011 @ 5:00am

    A More Serious Punishment

    I'm not sure even that would deter the government. After all, it's gone to great lengths to become a law unto itself. With a deficit in the multiple trillions, any imaginable amount is still "small change."

    The only positive that could come from this would be more exposure of various government agencies as reckless violators of civil liberty, operating with little to no oversight. It'll take more than a hefty judgment to slow down the steady flow of "state secrets" and warrantless wiretaps.

    It won't be until someone can actually hold them accountable for these violations that anything will change. And with the government being "the top" in the phrase "taking this all the way to the top," it would seem that any citizens or smaller court actions along these lines would be futile. The change has to come from the top down and so far no one in that position seems to have any interest in making that effort.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      DCX2, 23 Feb 2011 @ 6:39am

      Re: A More Serious Punishment

      I can't wait for third world dictators to start justifying their assaults on civil liberties by comparing themselves favorably to the US when it comes to things like warrantless wiretaps etc.

      FYI, the deficit was never multi-trillion. The debt is. While the whole debt thing is a problem, I think a lot of people tend to overstate the problem due to confirmation bias, ignoring statistics like debt/GDP that don't fit an alarmist perspective.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), 23 Feb 2011 @ 7:44am

        Re: Re: A More Serious Punishment

        You're right: it's the debt. Not the deficit. I'm not an alarmist but it does seem to have kind of taken off over the last 8 years or so.

        The government seems to have no problem writing out billions of dollars worth of checks, via earmarks or entitlements or whatever. When it comes to spending, multiple billions are chump change.

        However, when it comes to actually trimming back some of the spending, all of a sudden a few billion is real money and every cent needs to be agonized over endlessly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2011 @ 8:41am

        Re: Re: A More Serious Punishment

        why is debt/gdp relevant?

        gdp itself is decreasingly relevant as a metric because it tallies "sales" rather than "earnings"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Overcast (profile), 23 Feb 2011 @ 5:59am

    Either way - they are still breaking the law.

    So much for a society where the 'rule of law' trumps political agendas..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Overcast (profile), 23 Feb 2011 @ 6:04am

    "He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers."

    "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."

    "For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:"

    "In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

    This sums up our current government - how many more offenses will the people take 'King George'?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 23 Feb 2011 @ 1:04pm


      Your comment reminded me of something I learned long ago:

      "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years.
      These nations have progressed through this sequence:

      1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
      2. from spiritual faith to great courage;
      3. from courage to liberty;
      4. from liberty to abundance;
      5. from abundance to selfishness;
      6. from selfishness to complacency;
      7. from complacency to apathy;
      8. from apathy to dependence;
      9. from dependency back again into bondage."

      - Sir Alex Fraser Tyler: (1742-1813) Scottish jurist and historian

      Even though the United States seems to be somewhere around number 7 or 8, the fact that we are 30+ years past our expiration date is definitely disquieting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        mirradric, 23 Feb 2011 @ 11:30pm

        Re: Re:

        Worry not, this is just an average and there are many factors that can speed up (like having an aggressive and invasive neighbor) or slow down collapse.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Someantimalwareguy, 23 Feb 2011 @ 11:16am

    The only way this injustice will be resolved is if the people take to the streets and "walk like an Egyptian". It would be interesting to see the reaction and embarrassment the Government would face if this were to happen...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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