US court to determine constitutionality of domestic surveillance

American Civil Liberties Union demands immediate halt to warrantless wiretapping program.

phone tap 88 (photo credit: )
phone tap 88
(photo credit: )
The question of whether the US government's domestic surveillance program is constitutional was to be argued in court for the first time Monday. A hearing in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the National Security Agency is scheduled before US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit. The ACLU has asked the judge to immediately halt the warrantless wiretapping program. The Bush administration has asked Taylor to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the litigation would jeopardize state secrets. But Taylor said she would first hear arguments on the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, despite the government's assertion that no court can consider the issues. The administration has acknowledged eavesdropping on Americans' international communications without first seeking court approval. President George W. Bush has said the eavesdropping is necessary and is legal because of a congressional resolution passed after the September 11 attacks that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism. Critics of the program say it violates the rights to free speech and to privacy. The parties in the ACLU lawsuit, who include journalists, scholars and lawyers, say the program has hampered their ability to do their jobs because it has made international contacts, such as sources and potential witnesses, wary of sharing information over the phone. Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director, said the administration's arguments in defense of the program don't square with the Constitution. "The framers (of the US Constitution) never intended to give the president the power to ignore the laws of Congress even during wartime and emergencies," she said last week during a conference call with reporters. She said no state secrets need to be revealed to litigate the case because the administration has already acknowledged the program exists. The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a similar lawsuit on the eavesdropping in federal court in New York.