ACLU Gains Support of Lawmakers in Court Fight Against Illegal Spying

May 11, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it has received the support of several members of Congress in the organization's ongoing lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency's illegal domestic spying program. Led by Congressman John Conyers, (D-MI), the group of 72 legislators filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the ACLU.

"Today's support from so many leaders of our federal government shows that Americans will not tolerate the government snooping into their calls and emails without court approval," said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. "The American people should be proud to be represented by lawmakers who are so determined to uphold our most precious and basic values."

The brief signed by the congressional members refuted, point-by-point, the arguments of legality made by the Bush Administration. The legislators argue strongly that there is no evidence that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court could not be effectively employed in a post September 11 environment. The lawmakers also use the brief to vehemently state that Congress by no means gave the administration carte blanche to collect intelligence as Commander-in-Chief and that the program is "operating against the express as well as the implied will of Congress."

Since 2001, the NSA has been secretly intercepting the phone and e-mail communications of Americans without any judicial check and in violation of the Fourth Amendment. According to the ACLU, the NSA spying program directed by President Bush violates the free speech and privacy rights of innocent Americans. A secret program to monitor Americans without warrants jeopardizes the freedom of expression that is essential to a healthy democracy. Such a policy also threatens the exchange of information and ideas that countless businesses, journalists and lawyers depend on for their livelihood. Under the program, the NSA is also engaging in wholesale datamining, capturing millions of calls and e-mails of ordinary American residents who have done nothing wrong. 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 Court will hear arguments on the legality of the program on June 12.

U.S. Representatives who signed on to the brief with Conyers include: Neil Abercrombie, HI; Gary Ackerman, NY; Brian Baird, WA; Tammy Baldwin, WI; Howard Berman, CA; Shelley Berkley, NV; Earl Blumenauer, OR; Rick Boucher, VA; Corrine Brown, FL; Michael Capuano, MA; Julia Carson, IN; William Lacy Clay, MO; Artur Davis, AL; Peter DeFazio, OR; Diana DeGette, CO; William Delahunt, MA; Sam Farr, CA; Chaka Fattah, PA; Barney Frank, MA; Al Green, TX; Raul Grijalva, AZ; Maurice Hinchey, NY; Ruben Hinojosa, TX; Michael Honda, CA; Jesse Jackson, Jr., IL; Sheila Jackson Lee, TX; Eddie Bernice Johnson, TX; Stephanie Tubbs Jones, OH; Dale E. Kildee, MI; Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, MI; Dennis Kucinich, OH; Tom Lantos, CA; Barbara Lee, CA; Zoe Lofgren, CA; John Lewis, GA; Carolyn Maloney, NY; Edward Markey, MA; Jim McDermott, WA; James McGovern, MA; Martin Meehan, MA; George Miller, CA; James Moran, VA; Jerrold Nadler, NY; Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.; James Oberstar, MN; John Olver, MA; Major Owens, NY; Donald Payne, NJ; Charles Rangel, NY; Linda Sanchez, CA; Bernard Sanders, VT; Janice Schakowsky, IL; Bobby Scott, VA; Jose Serrano, NY; Brad Sherman, CA; Louise Slaughter, NY; Hilda Solis, CA; Fortney Pete Stark, CA; Bennie Thompson, MS; John Tierney, MA; Tom Udall, NM; Chris Van Hollen, MD; Debbie Wasserman Shultz, FL; Melvin Watt, NC; Maxine Waters, CA; Diane Watson, CA; Henry Waxman, CA; Robert Wexler, FL; Lynn Woolsey, CA; David Wu, OR; and Albert Russell Wynn, MD.

"We applaud those lawmakers who have joined us in this case calling for an end to the illegal wiretapping program," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "We hope that Congress will take the brief as a sign that oversight of this operation remains alarmingly absent. We urge lawmakers to bring the truth to light and help restore the rule of law."

Business and civil rights leaders including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Michael Kieschnick, President and co-founder of Working Assets Funding Services Inc. also filed friend-of-the court briefs on behalf of the ACLU in the legal battle against NSA wiretapping in April of this year.

For more information on the lawsuit, including the legal complaint and fact sheets on the case law and on the NSA spying program, please go to:

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