ACLU Demands Update on Status of NSA Surveillance Program As Re-Authorization Deadline Passes

April 11, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following a crucial deadline for the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on the administration to explain the status of the operation and urged Congress to fully investigate violations of the law.

“Attorney General Gonzales needs to tell Congress and the public whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has renewed orders authorizing NSA spying, and precisely what those orders authorize,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to demand the truth from Gonzales when he appears before that panel next Tuesday. Congress should insist that he release this information so Americans can know whether or not their phone conversations are private.”

On January 17, 2007, the Justice Department announced that it had obtained approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in orders issued January 10, for the NSA’s wiretapping program. While it remains unclear whether this order was a programmatic, or wholesale approval, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, such orders are subject to review, or re-authorization, every 90 days. The orders were scheduled to expire on April 10, 2007.

The FISC has not released its January 10 orders despite a direct request from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Justice Department has also refused to confirm whether the orders generally authorize the program as opposed to authorizing surveillance of individual persons based on probable cause. The ACLU said that generalized program warrants are unconstitutional and violate FISA.

The status of the FISA court orders is also at issue in the ACLU’s legal challenge to the NSA spying program, which is currently pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. A district court in Michigan declared the program unconstitutional in August 2006, and the government appealed that ruling.

ACLU attorneys today are filing papers with the Sixth Circuit to seek the unsealing of classified submissions by the government in the case last week. Because the submissions coincide with the expiration of the January FISA orders, the ACLU assumes the filings pertain to the status of those orders. The government has previously relied on the new FISA orders to urge the court to dismiss the case.

“If the factual basis for the government’s argument for dismissal has now changed, the government has an obligation to make any relevant new facts and arguments available to the plaintiffs and the public,” said Ann Beeson, ACLU Associate Legal Director.

Because the president is still claiming the “inherent authority” to engage in warrantless eavesdropping, the ACLU said, there is an urgent need for the court to rule so that the President cannot continue to violate the law.

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the NSA warrantless surveillance program, go to:

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