!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'September 18, 2008: Civil Liberties Organization Sues NSA, Bush Officials over Warrantless Wiretapping'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event September 18, 2008: Civil Liberties Organization Sues NSA, Bush Officials over Warrantless Wiretapping. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, National Security Agency, New York Times, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department announces that it is invoking the “state secrets” clause to prevent a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against AT&T from going forward (see March 9, 1953 and January 31, 2006). The EFF is suing AT&T for compromising its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s domestic surveillance program. The government alleges that the lawsuit would reveal “state secrets” critical to “national security” if it continues. The Justice Department makes its initial filing in mid-May (see May 13, 2006). [US District Court, Northern District of California, 4/28/2006 pdf file; Klein, 2009, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Bush administration submits a legal brief arguing that the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T, alleging that firm cooperated with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006), should be thrown out of court because of the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Justice Department lawyers want Judge Vaughn Walker to examine classified documents that they say will convince him to dismiss the lawsuit. However, the government does not want the defense lawyers to see that material. “No aspect of this case can be litigated without disclosing state secrets,” the government argues. “The United States has not lightly invoked the state secrets privilege, and the weighty reasons for asserting the privilege are apparent from the classified material submitted in support of its assertion.” [CNET News, 5/26/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Vaughn Walker, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Vaughn Walker of the US District Court of Northern California rejects a request by the Justice Department to dismiss a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF—see January 31, 2006) against AT&T. The EFF argues that AT&T violated its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s allegedly illegal domestic wiretapping project. The government has asserted that the lawsuit would jeopardize “state secrets” if permitted to go forward (see May 22, 2006 and June 23, 2006). According to AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, working with the EFF in the lawsuit, Walker “ridicule[s]” the government’s request for dismissal on state secrets grounds, finding that “[t]he government has opened the door for judicial inquiry by publicly confirming and denying material information about its monitoring of communications content.… AT&T and the government have for all practical purposes already disclosed that AT&T assists the government in monitoring communication content. [T]he government has publicly admitted the existence of a ‘terrorist surveillance program’ (see After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and September 2002).… Considering the ubiquity of AT&T telecommunications services, it is unclear whether this program could even exist without AT&T’s acquiescence and cooperation.” EFF had given Walker the ammunition for his finding by providing him with a raft of media stories about AT&T’s involvement in the NSA surveillance program, as well as media coverage of Klein’s assertions (see April 12, 2006 and May 17, 2006). “The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret” any longer, Walker finds (see May 24, 2006). “[D]ismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security.” Walker also rejects a separate motion to dismiss by AT&T, which had argued that its relationship with the government made it immune from prosecution. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “This cases arises against the backdrop of the accountability of the government as it pursues its surveillance program. This is a significant victory for the principle of government accountability.” AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp refuses to give a direct comment about the ruling, but says that AT&T has always protected its customers’ privacy (see February 2001 and Beyond, February 2001, and Late 2002-Early 2003). The government will obtain a stay of Walker’s ruling while it files an appeal, preventing the EFF documents from being publicly disseminated. [New York Times, 7/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 78-79]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Marc Rotenberg, US Department of Justice, Walter Sharp, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington, and other members of the Bush administration. The EFF claims the lawsuit is “on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal unconstitutional and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.” The EFF is referring to its ongoing lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms, which it accuses of colluding with the NSA to illegally monitor American citizens’ domestic communications (see December 15, 2005). The case, the EFF writes, “is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it.” After January 2009, the newly elected Obama administration will challenge the lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, on the grounds that to defend itself against the lawsuit, the government would be required to disclose “state secrets” (see Late May, 2006). The government used similar arguments to quash the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T (see April 28, 2006), arguments which were rejected by a judge (see July 20, 2006). [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009] The suit will be dismissed (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, AT&T, Bush administration (43), David S. Addington, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Obama administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008). The EFF is particularly concerned with the portion of the legislation that grants retroactive immunity from prosecution to telecommunications firms that worked with government agencies to illegally conduct electronic surveillance against American citizens (see December 15, 2005). The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, or FAA, violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, according to the EFF, and, the organization writes, “robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law.” The lawsuit was triggered by Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s recent submission of a classified certification in another EFF lawsuit about illegal electronic certification (see January 31, 2006) that claimed the electronic surveillance conducted on behalf of the National Security Agency by AT&T did not happen. EFF senior attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The immunity law puts the fox in charge of the hen house, letting the attorney general decide whether or not telecoms like AT&T can be sued for participating in the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance. In our constitutional system, it is the judiciary’s role as a co-equal branch of government to determine the scope of the surveillance and rule on whether it is legal, not the executive’s. The attorney general should not be allowed to unconstitutionally play judge and jury in these cases, which affect the privacy of millions of Americans.” Mukasey’s certification claimed the government has no “content-dragnet” program that surveills millions of domestic communications, though it does not deny having acquired such communications. EFF has provided the court with thousands of pages of documents proving the falsity of Mukasey’s assertions, the organization writes. EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl says: “We have overwhelming record evidence that the domestic spying program is operating far outside the bounds of the law. Intelligence agencies, telecoms, and the administration want to sweep this case under the rug, but the Constitution won’t permit it.” EFF spokesperson Rebecca Jeschke tells a reporter that the FAA “violates the federal government’s separation of powers and violates the Constitution. We want to make sure this unconstitutional law does not deny telecom customers their day in court. They have legitimate privacy claims that should be heard by a judge. Extensive evidence proves the existence of a massive illegal surveillance program affecting millions of ordinary Americans. The telecoms broke the law and took part in this. The FISA Amendments Act and its immunity provisions were an attempt to sweep these lawsuits under the rug, but it’s simply unconstitutional.” EFF lawyers fear the FAA will render their lawsuit invalid. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10/17/2008; Salon, 10/17/2008] The EFF has filed a related lawsuit against the NSA and senior members of the Bush administration (see September 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Kevin Bankston, Kurt Opsahl, National Security Agency, Michael Mukasey, Rebecca Jeschke

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Federal judge Vaughn Walker dismisses Jewel v. NSA, a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against the National Security Agency and senior Bush administration officials over the administration’s warrantless surveillance program (see September 18, 2008). Walker rules that the privacy harm to millions of Americans from the illegal spying dragnet was not a “particularized injury” but instead a “generalized grievance” because almost everyone in the United States has a phone and Internet service. EFF legal director Cindy Cohn says: “We’re deeply disappointed in the judge’s ruling. This ruling robs innocent telecom customers of their privacy rights without due process of law. Setting limits on executive power is one of the most important elements of America’s system of government, and judicial oversight is a critical part of that.” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The alarming upshot of the court’s decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional. With new revelations of illegal spying being reported practically every other week… the need for judicial oversight when it comes to government surveillance has never been clearer.” The EFF indicates it will appeal Walker’s decision. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/21/2010] The Obama administration echoed claims made in previous lawsuits by the Bush administration, invoking the “state secrets” privilege (see Late May, 2006) and supporting previous arguments by the Bush-era Justice Department. The administration even went a step further than its predecessor in arguing that under the Patriot Act, the government can never be sued for illegal wiretapping unless there is “willful disclosure” of the communications. [Klein, 2009, pp. 116-117]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Security Agency, Vaughn Walker, Kevin Bankston

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike