Mar 312010
 March 31, 2010  Posted by  Court, Featured News, Govt, Surveillance, U.S.

Maria Dinzeo reports:

A federal judge ruled has ruled that government spying on a charity called Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation violated federal laws on domestic surveillance.

The government admittedly relied on the surveillance of phone conversations between two of the non-profit’s lawyers and an Al-Haramain director in Saudi Arabia when it designated the group as a terrorist organization associated with Osama bin Laden.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the government’s warrantless wiretapping of the lawyers’ phones violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.


Walker said Al-Haramain can file a request for damages in an amount to be determined by the court.

The court opinion can be found here.

The Al-Haramain case started in 2006 and has had a bumpy ride in the courts.  Court-related documents and files can be found on EFF’s site.

I’ve only just managed to skim some of the decision, but Judge Walker gets in a few shots at the government, who have consistently tried to do an end run around his rulings. In one passage, Judge Walker writes:

The court also directed defendants to review their classified submissions to date and to determine whether the Sealed Document and/or any of defendants’ classified submissions could be declassified. Upon completion of this review, defendants informed the court that nothing they had filed under seal during the three years in which the case had by then been pending could be declassified. Doc #577/078.

What followed were several months of which the defining feature was defendants’ refusal to cooperate with the court’s orders punctuated by their unsuccessful attempts to obtain untimely appellate review.


In an impressive display of argumentative acrobatics, defendants contend, in essence, that the court’s orders of June 3 and June 5, 2009 setting the rules for these cross-motions make FISA inapplicable and that “the Ninth Circuit’s rulings on the privilege assertion therefore control the summary judgment motions now before the Court.” Doc #672/105 at 6. In other words, defendants contend, this is not a FISA case and defendants are therefore free to hide behind the SSP [state secrets privilege] all facts that could help plaintiffs’ case. In so contending, defendants take a flying leap and miss by a wide margin.


Defendants’ nit-picking of each item of plaintiffs’ evidence, their remarkable insinuation (unsupported by any evidence of their own) that the al-Buthi/al-Timimi intercepts might have been pursuant to a FISA warrant and their insistence that they need proffer nothing in response to plaintiffs’ prima facie case do not amount to an effective opposition to plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.

Oh yeah, I’m looking forward to reading this decision.

Update 1: EFF’s Kevin Bankston has issued a statement, here.

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