Bush Signs Spy Bill, ACLU Sues
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Thursday over a controversial wiretapping law, challenging the constitutionality of the expanded spy powers Congress granted to the president on Wednesday.
The federal lawsuit was filed with the court just hours after Bush signed the bill into law.
The ACLU is suing on behalf of journalist and human rights groups, asking the court put a halt to Congress’s legalization of Bush’s formerly secret warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU contends (.pdf) the expanded spying power violates the Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
On Wednesday, the Senate gave final congressional approval to a massive expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, finishing a year of debate over how far the U.S. government should be able to conduct blanket surveillance using telecom facilities inside the United States.
In passing the FISA Amendments Act, Congress gave the executive branch the power to order Google, AT&T and Yahoo to forward to the government all e-mails, phone calls and text messages where one party to the conversation is thought to be overseas. President Bush signed the bill into law Thursday morning, describing it as a bill that "protect[s] the liberties of our citizens while maintaining the vital flow of intelligence."
The ACLU contends those blanket powers to grab international communications of Americans without specific court orders violate the Fourth Amendment and would stymie journalists who often speak to confidential sources outside the country.
Plaintiff Naomi Klein, the liberal columnist and author, said the surveillance would compromise her writing about international issues.
"If the U.S. government is given unchecked surveillance power to monitor reporters’ confidential sources, my ability to do this work will be seriously compromised," Klein said.
Longtime foreign correspondent Christopher Hedges admits that surveillance is not a new obstacle for journalists, but says this goes a step too far.
"There is a lot of monitoring that goes on especially when you are overseas," Hedges said. "But this creates a further erosion in my ability to work as a journalist."
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Thursday, asks the judge to stay the implementation of the new powers, until its constitutionality is determined.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has spearheaded the still ongoing lawsuits against the nation’s telecoms, will challenge the provision of the bill that gives retroactive amnesty to telecoms that are being sued for helping the government spy on Americans without warrants.
They argue that Congress’s attempt to have citizen lawsuits dismissed violates the separation of powers.
But the San Francisco-based online rights group also announced in a fund-raising letter on Thursday that it would also challenge the constitutionality of the bill’s expanded spying powers.
"We are also preparing a new case against the government for its warrantless wiretapping, past, present and future," said EFF senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston, who said the details were being withheld to keep the element of surprise.
"But suffice to say it will be quite different from the other cases against the government that have been filed so far," Bankston said. "Like with our case against AT&T, however, the ultimate goal will be the same: to halt the mass interception of Americans’ communications and to dismantle the dragnet spying network that was first exposed by our witness, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein."
(Story updated to quote EFF’s Bankston)