First Court Ruling that Bush Administration Wiretapping was Illegal

Friday, April 02, 2010

President George W. Bush exceeded his legal authority when he instructed the National Security Agency to spy on suspected terrorists in the United States without obtaining warrants from a special federal court, according to a court ruling on Wednesday. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco ruled in favor of the Saudi Arabia-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which sued the government over what it claimed was illegal wiretapping in 2004.

The warrantless surveillance was kept a secret until The New York Times exposed the spying in December 2005. Bush claimed he possessed the power to override a 1978 law requiring the government to obtain approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for eavesdropping on domestic communications. Walker said Bush lacked that authority.
The Justice Department under President Barack Obama continued the fight on behalf of the government, arguing the courts lacked the power to get involved in wiretapping of suspected terrorists because such efforts required the utmost secrecy. But Justice lawyers never actually told Walker that they thought the surveillance program was legal.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Judge: Bush Overstepped Wiretapping Authority (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)
Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal (by Charlie Savage and James Risen, New York Times)
Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Barack Obama (U.S. District Court, Northern California) (pdf)
Al Haramain v. Bush (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Unclassified Report on the President’s Surveillance Program (Offices of Inspectors General of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence) (pdf)


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