Disturbing arguments from DOJ betray intention to make government immune from any legal challenge over wiretapping
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has warned that the Obama administration is seeking to expand the government’s authority to carry out wiretapping under the auspices of national security.
The EFF points to the dismissal of its own litigation against the National Security Agency for the warrantless wiretapping, warning that arguments made in defense of wiretapping by Obama’s Department of Justice are worse than Bush’s.
EFF writer Tim Jones explains the arguments that were made by the DOJ in the Jewel v. NSA case:
First, they argued, exactly as the Bush Administration did on countless occasions, that the state secrets privilege requires the court to dismiss the issue out of hand. They argue that simply allowing the case to continue “would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security.” As in the past, this is a blatant ploy to dismiss the litigation without allowing the courts to consider the evidence.[...]
it’s the Department Of Justice’s second argument that is the most pernicious. The DOJ claims that the U.S. Government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying — that the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes. [...]
The Obama Administration goes two steps further than Bush did, and claims that the US PATRIOT Act also renders the U.S. immune from suit under the two remaining key federal surveillance laws: the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. Essentially, the Obama Administration has claimed that the government cannot be held accountable for illegal surveillance under any federal statutes.
The Obama Administration’s full motion to dismiss can be read here (PDF).
In short, not only is the Obama administration actively defending and protecting Bush officials over illegal wiretapping, they are arguing in favor of expanding the practice and already seeking to protect themselves and any other administration past or present from legal challenge.
When dovetailed with recent announcements by Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair, that the NSA is seeking to expand it’s power, a clear and disturbing picture emerges.
Blair’s intention to encompass all electronic communications within the NSA’s scope is a direct continuation of the policy under the Bush administration. Last year the former US National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell announced plans for cyberspace spying that would make the current debate on warrantless wiretaps look like a “walk in the park”.
The plan would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search.
This is exactly the kind of thing we warned our readers of before Obama was elected. Instead of repealing the freedom stripping tools put into place by the Bush administration, Obama is continuing to use them and is even seeking to enhance them.