Federal judge rules for Islamic charity in NSA wiretapping case

Federal judge rules for Islamic charity in NSA wiretapping case

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] granted partial summary judgment [opinion, PDF] Wednesday in favor of an Islamic charity that claimed the federal government illegally wiretapped its conversations without a warrant. In its suit [JURIST report; EFF materials], the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation [JURIST news archive] asked the court to admit a confidential National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] document accidentally sent to its lawyers to show that the government had illegally spied on the group. Judge Vaughn Walker denied this request and ruled instead that non-confidential information established that the government had illegally wiretapped conversations between the group and overseas parties in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The court held that the government could not use the state secrets privilege [JURIST news archive] to refuse to answer whether it had recorded conversations without a FISA warrant. The court gave the charity until April 16 to decide whether it wants to proceed with or dismiss remaining claims against the government.

Al-Haramain filed a motion [JURIST report] for partial summary judgment on the FISA claim last July. In February 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] affirmed the district court's ruling [JURIST report] denying a government appeal to keep the NSA call log secret, despite its accidental release to Al-Haramain in 2004. The call log had been deemed a state secret [JURIST report], but the decision required the government to allow the foundation to view the document. JURIST contributor Victor Comras said that Walker had done a "truly remarkable job" balancing national security and due process [JURIST comment] in the case. Walker had previously dismissed the suit [JURIST report], finding that Al-Haramain lacked a cause of action because the state secrets privilege trumped procedural requirements under FISA.