A federal judge today ordered the Bush administration to cease all warrantless wiretapping of calls between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, based in Detroit, rejected President Bush’s claim that he had the inherent power to authorize the program.
“There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution,” wrote Judge Taylor.
The Bush administration argued that it is entitled to intercept calls and emails without a warrant because of the president’s constitutional power as commander-in-chief.
The administration also argued Congress had implicitly granted it such authority when Congress approved the use of military force in Afghanistan after Sept. 11. Taylor ruled to the contrary.
The ACLU, which brought the suit on behalf of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys and organizations who claim the program is disrupting their communications with clients and sources, was ecstatic.
“Today’s ruling is a landmark victory against the abuse of power that has become the hallmark of the Bush administration,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, in a statement.
“AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers’ privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security,” said an AT&T spokesperson in a statement to internetnews.com. The EFF did not respond to requests for comment as of publication.
At issue is whether the government can go around the FISA-authorized courts and engage in wiretaps without a court order. In 1978, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA for short, in response to revelations of illegal wiretapping during President Richard Nixon’s administration.
FISA requires the government to seek a warrant from a special court that meets in secret before conducting a search or electronic surveillance related to foreign terrorism or espionage.
Government lawyers are expected to appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and have requested a stay of Judge Taylor’s order, pending the appeal. The ACLU will oppose the motion.
A hearing on the motion is expected to be held on September 7th.