Suit filed against US law on surveillance

DAWN | The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit to stop the US government from conducting surveillance under a new wiretapping law that gives the Bush administration virtually unchecked power to intercept e-mails and telephone calls.

The case was filed on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labour, legal and media organisations whose ability to perform their work – which relies on confidential communications – will be greatly compromised by the new law.

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, passed by the US Congress on Wednesday and signed by President George W. Bush, not only legalises the secret warrantless surveillance programme President Bush approved in late 2001, it also gives the US government new powers to conduct surveillance of Americans’ international communications.

“Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval is an abuse of government power – and that’s exactly what this law allows. The ACLU will not sit by and let this evisceration of the Fourth Amendment go unchallenged,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

“Electronic surveillance must be conducted in a constitutional manner that affords the greatest possible protection for individual privacy and free speech rights. The new wiretapping law fails to provide fundamental safeguards that the Constitution unambiguously requires.”

In its legal challenge, the ACLU argues that the new law violates Americans’ rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The new law permits the US government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and e-mail addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.