Judge: US gov’t wiretapping program illegal

A U.S. judge has ruled that a U.S. National SecurityAgency (NSA) program to wiretap telephone and Internet trafficof U.S. residents is illegal and must be stopped.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the U.S. DistrictCourt for the Eastern District of Michigan on Thursday ordered theNSA and “its agents, employees, representatives and any otherpersons or entities in active concert or participation” with theagency to halt the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program.

The program allowed the NSA to monitor communications betweenU.S. residents and people in other countries with suspected ties toterrorist group alQaeda, without getting court-ordered warrants.

The program, authorized by U.S. President George Bush in 2002,violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speechand association and its prohibitions against unreasonable searchesand seizures, Taylor wrote in her order.

The NSA program also violates the separation of powers clause inthe Constitution, she wrote, as well as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, whichset courts to issue warrants for wiretaps focused oncounterintelligence.

“The public interest is clear, in this matter,” Taylor wrote.”It is the upholding of our Constitution.”

Bush has defended the program as a valuable tool used to trackdown potential terrorists. The program is “firmly grounded in law”and only targets international phone calls in which one participantis suspected to be linked to al Qaeda, Bush spokesman Tony Snowsaid in a statement.

“We couldn’t disagree more with this ruling,” Snow added. “Thewhole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before theycan be carried out. That’s what the American people expect fromtheir government, and it is the President’s most solemn duty toensure their protection.”

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said Thursdayit has already appealed Taylor’s order. The NSA program is a”critical tool that ensures we have in place an early warningsystem to detect and prevent a terrorist attack,” the DOJ said in astatement.

Taylor’s order to shut down the program will be delayed untilafter a hearing to determine whether the ruling should be postponeduntil the appeal process ends, the DOJ said.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, cheered Taylor’sruling, saying he believes the NSA program is illegal.

“This has become another unfortunate example of how White Housemisdirection, arrogance and mismanagement have needlesslycomplicated our goal of protecting the American people,” Leahy saidin a statement. “We can and should wiretap terrorists under thecurrent … law. The problem has been the Bush-CheneyAdministration’s insistence on doing it illegally, without checksand balances to prevent abusing the rights of Americans.”

The NSA, claiming it could not argue the case without disclosingstate secrets, asked Taylor to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and U.S.Islamic groups. Taylor rejected the NSA’s request.

The ACLU and other plaintiffs argued the NSA’s program made itdifficult for U.S. residents such as scholars, lawyers andjournalists to communicate internationally without governmentmonitoring.

The Michigan case is related to a series of lawsuits againstAT&T Inc. and other telecom carriers being heard in the U.S.District Court for the Northern District of California. In thosecases, individuals and civil-liberties groups have sued thecarriers for allegedly participating in the NSA’s wiretappingprogram. In July, the California judge denied a U.S. governmentmotion to dismiss the main case against AT&T.

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