A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government’s warrantless
wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to
it. The White House said it “couldn't disagree” more with the ruling.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to
strike down the National Security Agency’s program, which she says
violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of
powers enshrined in the Constitution.
“Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this
matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution,” Taylor wrote in her
The U.S. Justice Department appealed the ruling and issued a statement
saying the program is “an essential tool for the intelligence community
in the war on terror.”
“In the ongoing conflict with al-Qaida and its allies, the president has
the primary duty under the Constitution to protect the American people,”
the department said. “The Constitution gives the president the full
authority necessary to carry out that solemn duty, and we believe the
program is lawful and protects civil liberties.”
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the Bush administration's
“Terrorist Surveillance Program” is “firmly grounded in law and
regularly reviewed to make sure steps are taken to protect civil
The ruling won't take immediate effect so Taylor can hear a Justice
Department request for a stay pending its appeal.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of
journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult
for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are
likely targets of the program, which involves wiretapping conversations
between people in the U.S. and those in other countries.
The government argued that the program is well within the president’s
authority, but said proving that would require revealing state secrets.
The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the Bush
administration already had publicly revealed enough information about the
program for Taylor to rule.
“At its core, today’s ruling addresses the abuse of presidential
power and reaffirms the system of checks and balances that’s necessary
to our democracy,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told reporters
after the ruling.
He called the opinion “another nail in the coffin in the Bush
administration’s legal strategy in the war on terror.”
While siding with the ACLU on the wiretapping issue, Taylor dismissed a
separate claim by the group over NSA data-mining of phone records. She said
not enough had been publicly revealed about that program to support the
claim and further litigation would jeopardize state secrets.
The lawsuit alleged that the NSA “uses artificial intelligence aids to
search for keywords and analyze patterns in millions of communications at
any given time.” Multiple lawsuits have been filed related to
data-mining against phone companies, accusing them of improperly turning
over records to the NSA.
However, the data-mining was only a small part of the Detroit suit, said
Ann Beeson, the ACLU’s associate legal director and the lead attorney on
Beeson predicted the government would appeal the wiretapping ruling and
request that the order to halt the program be postponed while the case
makes its way through the system. She said the ACLU had not yet decided
whether it would oppose such a postponement.
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