Lawsuits seek to ban government eavesdropping on Americans |

Lawsuits seek to ban government eavesdropping on Americans

NEW YORK – Two lawsuits were filed Tuesday in federal court that seek to end President Bush’s electronic eavesdropping program, saying it is illegal and exceeds his constitutional powers.The lawsuits – one filed in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the other in Detroit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups – say the program bypasses safeguards in a 1978 law requiring court approval of electronic monitoring.The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing Bush, the head of the National Security Agency and the heads of the other major security agencies.The organization, which represents hundreds of men held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, must now audit old communications to determine whether “anything was disclosed that might undermine our representation of our clients,” said Bill Goodman, the center’s director.The Detroit lawsuit, which names the National Security Agency and its director, said the program has impaired plaintiffs’ ability to gather information from sources abroad as they try to locate witnesses, represent clients, do research or engage in advocacy.It was filed by the ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Greenpeace and individuals on behalf of journalists, scholars, attorneys and national nonprofit organizations that communicate with people in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere.A spokesman for the Justice Department disputed the lawsuits’ assertions.”We believe these cases are without merit and plan to vigorously defend against the charges,” Brian Roehrkasse said.A message left with the National Security Agency was not immediately returned.Bush maintains the program is legal under a congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It authorizes eavesdropping on international phone calls and e-mails of people deemed terror risks.The New York lawsuit noted that federal law already lets the president order warrantless surveillance during the first 15 days of a war and allows courts to authorize surveillance of agents of foreign powers or terrorist groups.The 1978 law requiring court approval was established after public fury erupted over surveillance of individuals, including Martin Luther King Jr.”I’m personally outraged that my confidential communication with my clients may have been listened to by the U.S. government,” said Rachel Meeropol, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Attorneys have long relied on privacy to gather facts to ensure fair trials, lawyer Josh Dratel said in a statement supporting the ACLU case. He has represented people accused of terrorism-related crimes.”That comfort level no longer exists, and it has sent a chill through the legal community,” he said.The program will further isolate U.S. social scientists, journalists and researchers from those who report on political developments or human rights abuses, said Larry Diamond, a Stanford University professor and plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit.”One reason why the United States is held in such low esteem … today is because we are seen as hypocritical,” he said. “We vow to promote individual freedom as the central purpose of foreign policy, and then we violate individual freedom with this secret warrantless surveillance.”—On the Net:http://www.aclu.org

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