Courts Rebuke Bush Administration on Spying Laws
Two federal courts handed down stunning victories for civil liberties last week, starkly rejecting White House abuses of power through the Patriot Act and broad use of secrecy claims to dodge public accountability.
In the only legal challenge ever brought regarding the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the amended Patriot Act, a New York federal court struck down the current rules. The NSL statute has permitted the FBI to issue secret demands for personal records without court approval. It also empowers the government to gag recipients from even discussing these NSLs.
Not only did District Court Judge Victor Marrero rule that this gag power violates the First Amendment and the fundamental separation of powers, he also found that, because the gag provisions could not be separated from the entire amended statute, the Patriot NSL statute must be struck down in its entirety. This is an historic affirmation of principle that extends beyond even the requests made in the ACLU’s legal brief!
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. rejected broad claims of government secrecy in our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over documents related to the Bush NSA wiretapping program. This ruling strikes another blow to the administration's sweeping and often unfounded secrecy claims and compels the Department of Justice, the FBI and the NSA to provide additional explanations for their withholding of many documents about the program, and the legal justifications for the program in particular.
The Fight to Shut Down an Unlawful Passenger-Tracking System
The ACLU is demanding the shut-down of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) illegal Automated Targeting System (ATS) program. The ATS program violates a congressional mandate barring DHS from assigning risk levels to ordinary Americans through secret criteria and computer algorithms intended to calculate whether ordinary Americans are “security risks.”
The program “violates every American’s right to privacy," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program. "The judgments about Americans calculated by ATS will be stored for years, and we have no idea how they may be used in the future. The benefit to the government is extremely questionable, but the consequences for Americans are simply dangerous."
In multiple recent appropriations votes, lawmakers have forbidden DHS from developing or testing any program that uses algorithms to calculate the security risks of ordinary Americans whose names are not already on a watch list. ATS ranks citizens using unknown but inevitably imprecise algorithms and draws from databases with known errors. In addition, security officials have said they cannot determine who will be a threat from the characteristics ATS uses.
The program was approved without public or congressional consideration. The government tracked cargo using a similar system, but Congress has repeatedly banned the use of such tracking techniques for human beings.
Learn more about the ATS program.
Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.