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  (Source: Quick Meme)
But court lifts previous ban on suing the government over warrantless wiretapping campaigns

If you have a problem with federal warrantless wiretapping campaigns, sue the government, not the telecoms.

That was the key message in the Thursday ruling handed down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appeals court that covers high profile cases appealed in nine western states, including California.

I. EFF is Greenlit for Class Action Against the NSA

The decision was still a quasi-victory for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who was leading the push against the warrantless wiretaps, at it prevents the most sweeping of protections on the domestic surveillance system, giving U.S. citizens at least one avenue to challenge the campaigns in court.

The EFF was less-than-thrilled that the court upheld the immunity for telecoms who served as the government's accomplices, helping federal agents spy on their customers.   The telecom immunity was granted by the "Protect America Act" of 2007 (Pub.L. 110-55S. 1927).

The EFF was seeking class action status for a lawsuit against AT&T, Inc. (T) and the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).  The EFF accuses AT&T of conspiring with the NSA to divert its customers voice, SMS, and internet traffic into special secure rooms at its facility across the country, giving the NSA the ability to freely snoop on whatever private communications they pleased.

The operation was called "an unprecedented suspicionless general search" by the EFF, which accused it of being unconstitutional, based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (part of the Bill of Rights), which states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

II. Lower Court Ruling is Partially Reversed, Telecom Immunity Restored

A lower court had granted the EFF permission to go ahead with a class action lawsuit against AT&T and NSA, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to appeal to the 9th Circuit.

The 9th Circuit's decision partially reversed the lower court's ruling.  Unlike the lower court, it ruled that the government granting immunity to its business accomplices was Constitutional.  However, it refused the DOJ's request that the federal government also be made immune on "state secrets" grounds, saying lawsuits against the government were the place to challenge the Constitutionality of such programs.

[Image Source: Minding the Media]

Judge Margaret McKeown, a member of the three-judge appeals panel, writes (PDF; pg. 21589), "The federal courts remain a forum to consider the constitutionality of the wiretapping scheme and other claims."

The differentiation was an interesting one, in that it dealt a partial victory, partial loss to both the DOJ and EFF.  

It is important to note that the Appeals Court did not deliver an opinion on the legality of the warrantless wiretaps themselves.

III.  Most 2012 Presidential Candidates Support Warrantless Spying

The irony of the Protect America Act was that it modified the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 ("FISA" Pub.L. (Public Law) 95-511, 92 Stat. (Statute at large) 1783, enacted October 25, 1978, 50 U.S.C. ch.36S. 1566) installing the kind of unregulated surveillance permissions that the FISA was originally designed to block at the time of its post-Watergate passage.

The FISA's original authors recognized the danger of abuse if unregulated wiretaps were granted to federal officials and police.  After, all at least one U.S. President -- Richard Nixon (R) -- used such powers to spy on his political rivals.

Despite the strict FISA President George W. Bush (R) openly defied the law in the post 9-11 (2001) era, resuming warrantless wiretapping. President Bush convinced Congress to retroactively legalize the effort by modifying the FISA.  With Congress's weight behind the unregulated domestic spying effort the President gained the unregulated spying power that had once led to the impeachment of President Nixon.

When new President Barack Obama took office, he promised reform and to cut back on the warrantless spying, but once elected that "hope" turned to "nope" as President Obama proved remarked "Bush-like" and pushed to expand the program and vigorously defend the immunity for cooperative telecoms.

Bush and Obama
President Obama and his predecessor President Bush agree on many things, including that the federal government should be granted unregulated spying on its citizens.
[Image Source:]

It appears unlikely that the warrantless monitoring is going anywhere, anytime soon.  Aside from President Obama support, most of the leading Republican candidates appear supportive of the practice, with many voting to support President Bush with the Protect America Act.  Of the major candidates, the only one who has voiced major concerns about the federal spying is Ron Paul (R).

Bachmann and Paul
Minn. Rep and Tea Party chief Michele Bachmann supports unregulated, warrantless federal wiretapping.  Ron Paul is the only major presidential candidate to oppose it.
[Image Source: (left) and (right)]

It is unknown exactly how many telecoms participated in the government's plot to spy on citizens.  However all three of America's largest cellular carriers -- AT&T; Sprint Nextel Corp. (S); and Verizon Wireless, the joint venture between Verizon Communications  Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD)  -- were all listed as defendants in the EFF suit.

They are now free to resume helping President Obama and Congress spy on American citizens without warrant, without having to be legal responsible for their actions.

The EFF is contemplating whether to appeal the decision to restore the immunity provisions to a higher federal court.

Sources: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, EFF

Comments     Threshold

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RE: Jason you just can't help yourself.
By JasonMick on 1/3/2012 12:07:30 PM , Rating: 2
Ever heard of someone named J. Edgar Hoover? Or hundreds of other examples I could recite! How about throwing 112,000 Japanese American citizens in "internment camps"? Is that in the Constitution or Bill of Rights as well?

I'm not going to waste much more time debating with you, because you appear to have your mind set, but consider, if you will, the interesting point raised by your bit of history you tossed out.

What enabled J. Edgar Hoover's well-documented abuses? A sweeping expansion of federal authority in the name of the "war on communism". What allowed the Japanese internment? FDR's sweeping federal power grab, which was conveniently enabled to reach a pinnacle by WWII. What's creating the current issue here? A sweeping federal power grab in the name of a new war -- the "war on terror".

It's pretty obvious the commonality.

If anything your history you threw out is illustrative of just why sweeping expansions of federal power under the auspice of a "war" are dangerous to America's idealogy and values.

Warrantless wiretaps in the name of the "war on terror" are a perfect example of such a sweeping and dangerous granting of unregulated federal powers. That is why we should be vary wary of them.

American history (and human nature) suggest a high probability of abuse.

Of course. But the argument that the gov't is crappy, so why does the matter if it gets crappier is a pretty weak one, in my mind. Every move should be assessed on its merits, regardless of how "unregulated"/"irresponsible" the federal government's existing infrastructure is.

You bring up a valid point that a lot of other reforms are needed to truly move America towards a more perfect union.

But fighting undocumented spying on American citizens is certainly a valid cause in the context of this much broader need for reform.

RE: Jason you just can't help yourself.
By Reclaimer77 on 1/3/2012 1:11:22 PM , Rating: 4
I'm not going to waste much more time debating with you

Oh it's been a waste now? That's nice. Well I'm going to do myself a favor and try not to waste my time reading your tabloid articles.

You bring up a valid point that a lot of other reforms are needed to truly move America towards a more perfect union.

No the time for that is sadly past. Those in power will allow no true "reform". The only thing left for us is to forcibly dismantle the current Government. IE; a civil war with hopefully the right side winning this time.

But fighting undocumented spying on American citizens is certainly a valid cause in the context of this much broader need for reform.

Who's fighting it? Those that pretend to care are only doing it for political gain, like Obama. Nothing is ever really going to change.

RE: Jason you just can't help yourself.
By Fritzr on 1/3/2012 6:04:11 PM , Rating: 2
Just out of curiosity I will ask a silly question.

You claim that there is no need to fight this new power granted to Bush and currently used by Obama.

You claim the government is hopelessly corrupt so there is no sense in trying to reverse the trend.

Then you conclude by saying the people should revolt and eliminate the corruption.

Are you sure that is the right thing to do...that is; sccept and roll over while not accepting and cleaning house?

This sort of thinking used to be termed "Schizophrenic" since it requires you to hold two incompatible views at the same time.

By Reclaimer77 on 1/3/2012 7:07:33 PM , Rating: 2
That was silly because you took everything out of context.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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