Legality of Bush's wiretapping faces court challenge
By Patti Waldmeir
The Bush administration’s controversial warrantless wire-tapping programme will face its first big court test on Monday, when a federal judge in Detroit hears a direct challenge to the programme’s legality for the first time.
Opponents of the programme have broadened their campaign to include not just opposition in Congress, but more than two dozen lawsuits against the government and the telephone companies allegedly complicit in the spying, plus complaints to state and federal agencies that regulate telecommunications companies.
Opponents have turned to the courts and the regulators partly out of frustration at the failure of Congress to uncover details of the programme.
As early as this week, a key Senate committee is expected to vote on a bill that could give the Bush administration new powers to conduct such surveillance. But it is not clear that legislation on domestic surveillance in the war on terror will make it all the way through both houses of Congress before mid-term elections in the autumn.
The ACLU claims that the government surveillance programmes violate the first and fourth amendments to the constitution; that the president exceeded his authority by authorising eavesdropping; and that he violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, requiring warrants from a special court for surveillance involving Americans.
The lawsuit could prove uphill for the plaintiffs, not least because none of them can prove that the government eavesdropped on them.
But Ann Beeson, who will argue the case for the ACLU, says the mere fact the eavesdropping programme exists means the attorneys involved cannot talk freely to their clients, and journalists cannot talk on the phone to sources.