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Friday, July 11, 2008

ACLU files lawsuit challenging new foreign surveillance law
Deirdre Jurand at 8:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; ACLU press release] against leaders of the US intelligence community on Thursday, acting on behalf of rights groups and activists. Filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, the action challenges the constitutionality [ACLU backgrounder] of the newly-amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law [HR 6304 text, PDF; press release] Thursday, allowing wider and less-regulated government monitoring of international communications. Bush said that the law is necessary to help intelligence officials keep the country safe, but critics, including ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, have argued [press release] that it violates the Constitution and erodes privacy rights:

Electronic surveillance must be conducted in a constitutional manner that affords the greatest possible protection for individual privacy and free speech rights. The new wiretapping law fails to provide fundamental safeguards that the Constitution unambiguously requires.
The ACLU claims that the law violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing unjustified and unregulated surveillance, and violates the First Amendment by limiting the freedom of speech and the press. The complaint also alleges that the Act violates the "case or controversy" requirement and separation of powers. The ACLU asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional and to permanently enjoin such surveillance. The ACLU also filed a separate motion [text, PDF] requesting that it be given leave to participate in all cases concerning the Act. The separate motion also requests that publications of all related motions and decisions be made available to the public. The New York Sun has more.

On Wednesday the US Senate voted 69-28 [roll call; JURIST report] to approve the FISA amendment to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies participating in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. Earlier in the day, the Senate rejected three proposed amendments [WH fact sheet] to the bill that would have limited immunity. Last month, the US House of Representatives passed [roll call] HR 6304, amending FISA and including the granting of retroactive immunity. The bill also grants the FISA court [governing provisions] authority to review a wider range of wiretapping orders, would prohibit the executive branch from overriding the court's authority, and orders the Department of Justice [official website] and other agencies to issue a report on the country's use of wiretapping orders.

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