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Thread: Warrantless surveillance lawsuit thrown out

  1. #1
    n00bz0r's Avatar Say what? BT Rep: +5
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    Apr 2009
    Warrantless surveillance lawsuit thrown out
    June 3, 2009 10:10 PM CT

    Federal district judge Vaughn Walker has rejected lawsuits that aimed to hold telecommunications companies accountable for their role in a controversial warrantless surveillance program that was orchestrated in secret by the federal government. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union are preparing to appeal the dismissal.

    The warrantless surveillance program is one the more contentious controversies that still lingers from Bush's tenure in office. The Bush administration attempted to leverage the State Secrets privilege to block litigation that aimed to hold participants in the surveillance program accountable for violating privacy laws. When it became clear that the courts were going to allow the lawsuits to move forward, Congress intervened and passed a FISA amendment to grant the telecom companies explicit immunity. President Obama voted in favor of immunity, despite consistently promising to oppose it.

    EFF and ACLU's lawsuit against the telecoms on behalf of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation is one the most significant pending lawsuits targeting the warrantless surveillance program, and it was viewed by privacy advocates as a means of bringing accountability and more robust judicial oversight to the surveillance mess. Judge Walker has thrown out the suit, citing the FISA telecom immunity amendment as the basis for dismissal. He affirmed that the evidence provided under seal by the government demonstrated that the conduct of the telecoms meets the criteria for immunity grants.

    The ACLU and EFF argued that the surveillance program was so broad and far-reaching that it necessarily extended beyond those boundaries and should not be entitled to protection. They contend that the function of the surveillance program was not to detect or prevent terrorist attacks, but to broadly enable collection of communication records regardless of whether those records are specifically needed.

    "While plaintiffs have made a valiant effort to challenge the sufficiency of certifications they are barred by statute from reviewing, their contentions under section 802 are not sufficiently substantial to persuade the court that the intent of Congress in enacting the statute should be frustrated in this proceeding in which the court is required to apply the statute," Walker wrote in his decision. "The court has examined the Attorney General's submissions and has determined that he has met his burden under section 802(a). The court is prohibited by section 802(c)(2) from opining further."

    The EFF and the ACLU are planning to launch an appeal, asserting that the FISA amendments which granted telecom immunity are unconstitutional.

    "We're deeply disappointed in Judge Walker's ruling today," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn in a statement. "The retroactive immunity law unconstitutionally takes away Americans' claims arising out of the First and Fourth Amendments, violates the federal government's separation of powers as established in the Constitution, and robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law."

    The Obama administration has indicated that it has no plans to hold the telecoms or previous administration accountable for alleged illegal activity. It will continue to sit on the details of the surveillance program and will not help to facilitate any of the ongoing litigation. It's looking increasingly likely that the telecoms will get a free pass and the true scope of the Bush administration's surveillance program will never be known.

    Last edited by Hairbautt; 06-04-2009 at 03:40 PM. Reason: wordwrap.

  2. News (Archive)   -   #2

  3. News (Archive)   -   #3
    SonsOfLiberty's Avatar The Lonely Wanderer
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    Dec 2008
    Capital Wasteland
    EFF, ACLU Vows to Appeal Dismissal of Warrantless Wiretapping Case

    It’s been a very long battle between civil rights groups and the NSA, but after all this long and drawn out battle, it appears as though civil rights organizations have experienced a setback in the warrantless wiretapping cases going on in the United States. Still, the battle is far from over as they have vowed to appeal the dismissal in the 9th circuit court of appeals.

    If one were to go clear back into June of 2008, the month that saw the passage of the Protect America Act, that still doesn’t even get close to the beginning of this whole ordeal (you’d have to go clear back to when Mark Klein blew the whistle on AT&T clear back in 2007 (many argue that the case goes even further back over a report in the New York Times). From court mandated sealed documents to government secrets to lawsuits to legislation to block lawsuits to the constitution, the warrantless wiretapping case has taken many twists and turns throughout the years to get us to where we are today.

    This latest setback appears to be a new blow to privacy advocates and civil rights groups alike among others. It’s new legal affirmation that the government doesn’t need a warrant to put a wiretap on anyone inside or outside the United States. Then again, what exactly does the constitution mean when it says that the law guards against unlawful search and seizures anyway? There may be similar questions that could be brought in when civil rights groups appeal their lawsuits.

    In the case so far, a judge has dismissed the lawsuits and upheld legislation that granted telecom immunity over warrantless wiretapping on behalf of the NSA.

    “Congress has manifested its unequivocal intention to create an immunity that will shield the telecommunications company defendants from liability in these actions,” Judge Walker Wrote (PDF)

    In an EFF Press Release:

    “We’re deeply disappointed in Judge Walker’s ruling today,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “The retroactive immunity law unconstitutionally takes away Americans’ claims arising out of the First and Fourth Amendments, violates the federal government’s separation of powers as established in the Constitution, and robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law.”

    “The immunity legislation that the court upheld today gives the telephone companies a free pass for flouting the law and violating the privacy rights of millions of their customers,” said Ann Brick, ACLU of Northern California staff attorney.

    In today’s ruling, Judge Walker left the door open to accountability for the government, holding that “plaintiffs retain a means of redressing the harms alleged in their complaints by proceeding against governmental actors and entities who are, after all, the primary actors in the alleged wiretapping activities.” EFF is also suing the government for the illegal surveillance in a separate case, Jewel v. NSA.

    “By passing the retroactive immunity for the telecoms’ complicity in the warrantless wiretapping program, Congress abdicated its duty to the American people,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. “Now it is up to the Court of Appeals to stand up for the Constitution, and reverse today’s decision.”

    At issue is FISAAA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act or FISA Amendments Act) which was passed by Bush in 2008. Currently, the law indicates that Internet Service Providers can spy on their users on behalf of the government without a warrant, regardless of where they are in the world and where they live. In question, is whether or not this law is even constitutional.


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