NSA Ruling a Victory For the Constitution
By Sarah Olson
t r u t h o u t | Report
Friday 18 August 2006
Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, of the US District Court in Detroit, Michigan, handed the American Civil Liberties Union and their supporters a stunning victory yesterday when she ruled the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional.
In the landmark decision yesterday, Taylor wrote:
The ruling is the first federal challenge to the wiretapping program allowing the NSA to secretly listen to phone calls placed from the US to foreign countries. The Bush administration says the program is used only on a limited number of "terrorist suspects," in extreme cases when it's not convenient to wait for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant. In turn, the ACLU and other civil liberties advocates argue the program violates Constitutionally protected rights to privacy and free speech, and has a chilling effect on communication.
Citing the 1967 US v. Robel ruling, Judge Taylor wrote,
Ann Beeson is the ACLU's associate legal director and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in this case. In a statement yesterday, she said, "By holding that , the court has done its duty."
Virginia Kerry, with NSA Public Affairs and Communications, declined to comment on the ruling yesterday, saying, "It would inappropriate to comment on matters of litigation; therefore, we have no information to provide."
The Department of Justice said the Terrorist Surveillance Program is an essential tool for the war on terror, and the . "The Terrorist Surveillance Program is a critical tool that ensures we have in place an early warning system to detect and prevent terrorist attacks. In the ongoing conflict with al-Qaeda and its allies the President has the primary duty under the Constitution to protect the American people."
and many other books, and is an authority on the NSA. He joined the ACLU's lawsuit, saying: Bamford disagrees with the argument that this program protects US citizens against terrorism. "I haven't heard of any great accomplishments this program has had," he said. "In fact, I think there is more legitimacy to the argument this program is more of a hindrance than a help."
Bamford says he's concerned about the "To see what happens when there is no regulation on a surveillance program, take a look at the do-not-fly list. There is something like 20,000 names on it."
Larry Diamond is another ACLU plaintiff against the NSA. He is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He says:
Diamond is concerned that the NSA warrantless wiretapping program will have an adverse impact on free academic research and communication between countries. "One reason why the United States is held in such low esteem in other parts of the world today is because we are seen as hypocritical: We say we favor the rule of law, but we violate it when it suits us. We are against torture, but we won't unequivocally commit never to practice it. We pressure regimes to adhere to international human rights standards, and then we turn over terrorism suspects to their security agencies, knowing full well these suspects will be tortured. We say we favor democracy and human rights, but we ally with abusive regimes whenever we feel we need to. We vow to promote individual freedom as the central purpose of our foreign policy, and then we violate individual freedom with this secret, warrantless surveillance."
Immigrant communities have suffered disproportionately under this program. Kareem Shora is the Director of Legal Policy at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, which also signed onto the amicus brief. He lauded the court's decision yesterday, and said that if left unchecked, programs like the NSA's surveillance and wiretapping program would eventually render the Constitution meaningless.
Shora says this program has a "People in the Arab American community who make calls to the old country typically speak to their families in Arabic. This program has had a chilling effect on that communication." Shora says the US government is not known for its cultural and linguistic sensitivity when it comes to Arab cultures.
Shora believes it's These programs include the
Leading democratic politicians reacted quickly to the ruling. Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, while upholding the necessity and importance of fighting terrorism at home and abroad, said,
Russ Feingold, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been trying to get Congressional support for censure of President Bush for his authorization of the NSA surveillance program since March. "Today's district court ruling is a strong rebuke of this administration's illegal wiretapping program," Feingold said on Thursday. "The President must return to the Constitution and follow the statutes passed by Congress. We all want our government to monitor suspected terrorists, but there is no reason for it to break the law to do so. The administration went too far with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. Today's federal court decision is an important step toward checking the President's power grab."
Numerous civil rights organizations have signed onto the ACLU lawsuit with friends-of-the-court statements. Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund's executive director Margaret Fung said, "We are heartened that the Michigan federal court has struck down the Bush Administration's NSA domestic spying program. This is a tremendous victory for the Asian American community and for all Americans who cherish their rights to free speech and privacy. The President is not above the law, and these governmental abuses of power must end."
For now, Judge Taylor's ruling has handed the ACLU a substantial victory. The Department of Justice has appealed the case, and has announced that both parties have agreed to a temporary stay of Judge Taylor's injunction against the warrantless wiretapping program until the court can hear the Department of Justice's motion for a stay pending appeal.
Sarah Olson is an independent journalist and radio producer. You can reach her at email@example.com.