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ACLU challenges secret spying law

By News | Last updated: Apr 27, 2010 - 3:48:56 PM

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( - The American Civil Liberties Union argued in a New York federal appeals court April 16 that its lawsuit challenging an unconstitutional government spying law should be reinstated. The ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed the landmark lawsuit in July 2008 to stop the government from conducting surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which gives the executive branch virtually unlimited power to monitor Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls.

“This law allows the government to engage in dragnet surveillance of Americans' international telephone calls and e-mails,” said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It intrudes on constitutionally protected privacy and free speech rights and sweeps far more broadly than is necessary to serve any legitimate government interest. In this context, the courts have not just the authority but the obligation to intervene. The lower court decision, which relegated Americans' privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches, should be reversed.”

U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl of the Southern District of New York dismissed the case in August on “standing grounds,” ruling that the plaintiffs—who include journalists, defense lawyers and human rights workers who rely on confidential communications to perform their jobs—did not have the right to challenge the new surveillance law because they could not prove with certainty that their own communications had been monitored. The ACLU is asking a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to overturn Judge Koeltl's ruling.

“The lower court's ruling creates a Catch-22 situation. The vast majority of people whose communications are intercepted under the secretive FAA will likely never know about it, so if the lower court ruling stands, the law may never be challenged in court,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “To say that plaintiffs can't challenge this statute unless they can show that their own communications have been collected under it is to say that this statute may not be subject to judicial review at all.”

According to the ACLU, it filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records related to the implementation of the new law, including reports indicating how the FAA is being interpreted and used, how many Americans are affected by this sweeping spying regime and what safeguards are in place to prevent abuse of Americans' privacy rights. “The FOIA request seeks records from the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Director of National Intelligence and the Inspector Generals at each of these agencies. The government has not yet released any of the records requested,” said the group.

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