Obama government to be sued over spying

American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuit over administration’s phone surveillance

A new National Security Agency data-gathering facility is seen under construction in Bluffdale, about 40 km south of Salt Lake City. The Obama administration has launched an internal review to assess damage to US national security from last week’s leak of top-secret details of NSA surveillance programmes, a senior US intelligence official said. Photograph: Reuters/Jimmy Urquhart

A new National Security Agency data-gathering facility is seen under construction in Bluffdale, about 40 km south of Salt Lake City. The Obama administration has launched an internal review to assess damage to US national security from last week’s leak of top-secret details of NSA surveillance programmes, a senior US intelligence official said. Photograph: Reuters/Jimmy Urquhart

Wed, Jun 12, 2013, 13:07

The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its “dragnet” collection of logs of domestic phone calls, contending that the once-secret programme – whose existence was exposed by a former National Security Agency contractor last week - is illegal. It has asked a judge to both stop it and order the records purged.

The lawsuit, filed in New York, could set up an eventual Supreme Court test. It could also focus attention on this disclosure amid the larger heap of top secret surveillance matters that were disclosed by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who came forward on Sunday to say he was the source of a series of disclosures by the Guardian and the Washington Post.

Mr Snowden, meanwhile, remained out of sight yesterday as the Obama administration launched an internal review of the potential damage to national security by the disclosures.

A senior US intelligence official said the review will be separate from a criminal investigation by the justice department into Mr Snowden’s disclosures of the NSA’s broad monitoring of phone call and internet data from big companies such as Google and Facebook.

Reporters staked out hotels in Hong Kong in hopes of finding Mr Snowden, who had worked at an NSA facility as an employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. He went public in a video released by the Guardian but then dropped from sight and has yet to resurface.

Mr Snowden’s disclosures launched a sharp debate about the tradeoffs between privacy rights and national security in the US in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001, attacks, and whether the resulting measures have been given sufficient scrutiny and oversight.


Congress briefing
Members of Congress will be briefed by intelligence and security officials on the programmes this week, including a session with the House of Representatives. Lawmakers promised public debate and legislative efforts to tighten the laws on US government surveillance. “We’ll have a lot of hearings on this,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. She said there were questions about how Mr Snowden, a high-school dropout, had top-secret clearance and access to high-level secrets.

Booz Allen said it had terminated Mr Snowden’s employment yesterday for violations of its code of ethics and policies. It said he had been an employee for less than three months at an annual salary rate of $122,000.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a Bill designed to end the secret supervision of the programmes by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by requiring declassification of significant court rulings.

“Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat and chief co-sponsor with Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican.

Meanwhile, European MEPs threatened to reopen data-sharing agreements with the US if Washington has been using the programmes to spy on Europeans.

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the “leaked reports of intelligence practices operated by others countries” when asked if the Irish State had any interaction with or concerns about the US government’s Prism surveillance programme. A spokeswoman said a comprehensive legal regime was in place to deal with such matters in this jurisdiction.

“The principal concern, of course, is that there is no abuse . . . and that there are procedures for redress, both of which are provided for under Irish law on data protection,” she said.

– (New York Times/Reuters)