The Electronic Frontier Foundationis doing its best to find out more about Chimpy’s unconstitutional eavesdropping.
A privacy rights group sued the Justice Department on Tuesday to try to pry loose a ruling by a secret court that the Bush administration says approved its clandestine wiretapping program.
The suit, if it succeeds, should answer an important question about the future of the program: whether the court will require individual warrants, with specific evidence, before allowing the government to intercept phone calls and e-mails between Americans and alleged terrorists in foreign countries.
A federal judge in Detroit declared the program unconstitutional in August, a ruling the administration has appealed. In San Francisco, another judge is considering more than 40 lawsuits accusing telecommunications companies of illegally collaborating with the program by allowing the National Security Agency to intercept messages and examine customer records.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco organization that represents AT&T customers in one of the lawsuits, sued Tuesday in Washington, D.C., seeking disclosure of a pivotal Jan. 10 ruling by a judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The ruling’s existence was disclosed Jan. 17 by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the judge had approved the surveillance, after lengthy negotiations, and that the program was now operating under authority of the foreign intelligence court.
Gonzales did not say, however, whether the judge was requiring a warrant in each case or instead had given overall approval to the program. The attorney general has refused to make the order public, although the Justice Department sent copies to the federal judge in San Francisco and the appeals court reviewing the Detroit ruling.
By random draw, the case was assigned to U.S. District Judge James Robertson, who resigned from the foreign intelligence court after the December 2005 disclosure that the administration had been conducting surveillance without court review.