Obama Administration Again Defends Bush Wiretapping

Thursday, April 09, 2009
The Department of Justice (DOJ) under President Barack Obama has gone beyond anything the Bush administration tried to do in defending the government’s unauthorized wiretapping of American communications earlier this decade, according to legal scholars. Following disclosures in 2005 that President George W. Bush had ordered the National Security Agency to intercept phone calls and emails of U.S. citizens without special court order, civil rights groups filed numerous lawsuits against the federal government and phone companies, such as AT&T, that participated in the illegal spying. In a court filing submitted last week by DOJ lawyers that defends AT&T, the Obama administration has declared that federal agencies cannot be sued for eavesdropping on American citizens even if there was intentional violation of U.S. law. The Justice Department insists that the government can only be sued if the wiretaps involve “willful disclosure”—a higher legal standard than what the Bush administration claimed. Constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald says the Obama administration has “invented a brand new claim” of immunity from spying litigation.
 
Approximately 40 lawsuits have been filed against the U.S. government over its illegal wiretapping. All of them are now pending in the Ninth Circuit appellate court in San Francisco, where Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is reviewing a challenge to last year’s law passed by Congress that granted AT&T and other phone companies immunity from being sued.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
 
Government Opts for Secrecy in Wiretap Suit (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

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