Business and Civil Rights Leaders Support ACLU Challenge to NSA Warrantless Wiretapping

April 20, 2006
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NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today announced the filing of two friend-of-the-court briefs supporting its lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency’s illegal domestic spying program. One brief was submitted on behalf of six prominent leaders of the nation’s business community and the other by five leading civil rights organizations.

“We stand today as Americans from many different walks of life, united in defense of our Constitution and the rule of law,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.  “We welcome the support of business leaders and civil rights advocates who recognize that warrantless spying on Americans is harmful to our democracy and detrimental to our reputation in the global community.”

The signers of the civil rights friend-of-the-court brief are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; United for Peace and Justice; and the Japanese Americans Citizens League.

Signing onto the business leaders’ friend-of-the-court brief are:

Michael Kieschnick, President, Chief Operating Officer, and a co-founder of Working Assets Funding Service, Inc., a telecommunications, credit card, and media company with over $100 million in annual revenue;

Mal Warwick, founder and Chairman of Mal Warwick & Associates, Inc., a leading provider of fundraising and marketing consulting services for domestic nonprofit organizations;

Ronald Algrant, Senior Vice President of International Sales at HarperCollins Publishers and former Chair of the Freedom to Publish Committee of the American Association of Publishers; 

Adam Kanzer, General Counsel and Director of Shareholder Advocacy of Domini Social Investments.  Domini is an investment firm that manages over $1.8 billion in assets for its individual and institutional investors;         

Peter Strugatz, President of Strugatz Ventures, Inc., a private equity investment firm, and is the founder and co-CEO of IceStone LLC, a leading manufacturer of sustainable home building products; and, 

Joe Sibilia, President and CEO of Meadowbrook Lane Capital, an investment bank whose principals have over $17 billion worth of transaction experience.  MBLC provides a wide range of investment banking and other financial and strategic services for its clients and owns a controlling interest in CSRwire, a global news distribution and resource service.

In their brief, the civil rights organizations pointed to decades of spying on Americans --  including members of their organizations -- that was halted only after a congressional investigation in the 1970’s exposed the abuses. The groups said they believed the current NSA spying program “exhibits the same unchecked executive power that led to abusive surveillance of civil rights advocates and others in the past and circumvents the statute enacted specifically to prevent such surveillance from reoccurring.”  

The brief signed by leaders in the business community highlighted the importance of confidential communications and trust in American democratic values to economic growth. “In order for this country’s international and domestic commerce to continue to thrive, it is imperative that the United States be perceived on the world stage as rigorously upholding its own laws, particularly with respect to the confidentiality of telephonic and electronic communications,” they said in their brief.  

Since 2001, the NSA has been secretly intercepting the phone and e-mail communications of Americans without first obtaining judicial approval. According to the ACLU, the NSA spying program authorized by President Bush violates the free speech and privacy rights of innocent Americans and jeopardizes the free flow of information that is essential to democracy and that thousands of businesses, journalists and lawyers depend on for their livelihood.  Under the program, the NSA is also engaging in wholesale datamining by sifting through millions of calls and e-mails of ordinary Americans. Saying that the Bush administration’s illegal spying on Americans must end, the ACLU filed its lawsuit against the NSA in January of this year. 

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys, and national nonprofit organizations (including the ACLU) who frequently communicate by phone and e-mail with people in the Middle East.  Because of the nature of their calls and e-mails, they believe the program is disrupting their ability to talk with sources, locate witnesses, conduct scholarship and engage in advocacy.  The spying program has sparked national and international furor and has been condemned by lawmakers across the political spectrum. 
 
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan, seeks a court order declaring that the NSA spying is illegal and ordering its immediate and permanent halt.  Attorneys in the case are Ann Beeson, Jameel Jaffer and Melissa Goodman of the national ACLU, and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.  The civil rights organizations are represented by Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice.  The business leaders are represented by Theresa A. Chmara at Jenner & Block, LLP.

The government’s opposition brief is due May 19, to which the ACLU will respond May 26.  Oral arguments are currently scheduled for June 12.   

For more information on the lawsuit, including the legal complaint, fact sheets on the case law and on the NSA spying program, and links to statements from the groups and individuals who signed onto today’s friend-of-the-court briefs, please go to www.aclu.org/nsaspying

The brief signed by civil rights organizations is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspying/25197lgl20060420.html

The brief signed by business leaders is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspying/25230lgl20060420.html

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