U.S. government's secret wiretaps violate the Constitution, rules court

Thursday, July 26, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: secret wiretaps, government, Constitution

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(NaturalNews) Finally, a federal court has ruled that the government has overstepped its constitutional bounds that are supposed to curb its ability to spy on citizens.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled recently that the National Security Agency - the nation's premier global spy - has, "on at least one occasion," violated the Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The ruling from the secret U.S. national security court is the first time the federal government has acknowledged its spy activities overstepped legal parameters since passage of a law in 2008 "that overhauled surveillance laws following the uproar over the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program in the George W. Bush Administration," The Wall Street Journal reported.

The finding of the court was disclosed in a letter from a top aide to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the latter is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a potent critic of the law which permits warrantless wiretaps.

The aide, Kathleen Turner, a senior official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in the letter that the agency had "remedied" the problem which led to the violation. She also said subsequent surveillance requests had been approved by the court.

'Transparency, compliance, oversight'

In commenting about the ruling, Wyden said the government had at times "circumvented the spirit of the law" in conducting its surveillance and wiretapping operations. He noted the national security court has agreed on at least one occasion.

"Many officials have tried to present a picture of careful compliance with both the law and the constitutional rights of Americans," he said, WSJ reported. "This information shows that hasn't always been the case and there have been what I consider to be some serious violations."

Turner's letter, which was also sent to the Senate committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein of California, and its ranking Republican member, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, provided few, precious details regarding the court's ruling. It also did not say whether anyone at NSA was disciplined or otherwise faced consequences because of the ruling.

Deflecting questions regarding details surrounding the violation, Intelligence office spokesman Michael Birmingham emphasized that the director is committed to "transparency, compliance, and oversight."

And, in her letter, Turner did note that Clapper had concluded that "the public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure."

A spokesman for Wyden said declassification of the ruling was a victory for the American people, in that it represented the kind of transparency necessary for a healthy debate regarding the nation's spy activities.

Currently, Wyden is blocking consideration of legislation in the Senate that would extend the 2008 law for five years because he says the government has failed to disclose the number of Americans who have been spied on since its passage.

Law is set to expire unless...

The House Judiciary Committee voted 23-11 on June 19 to extend the law; the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 along party lines to extend it for three years. As is, the law is set to expire at the end of 2012.

"The law established broad search warrants that permit eavesdropping of categories of people connected to national security threats, rather the requiring warrants for individual people," the Journal said.

The court's role is to consider requests from the government to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of foreigners in the U.S. suspected of engaging in terrorist activities or espionage.

The court approved every one of the government's 1,674 applications to conduct electronic surveillance in 2011, an April 30 Justice Department report to congressional leaders noted.

After lawmakers called for more transparency, the Obama administration created a process which considers declassifying the court's opinions beginning in 2010. On May 8, the Justice Department said no court rulings had yet been cleared for release, in response to a public records request.


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