A federal appeals court in San Francisco overturned an order that the federal government pay damages to an Islamic group and its lawyers that claimed it was a target of a warrantless wiretap during the Bush administration.
A lower court originally awarded the group $40,000 and it’s lawyers $2.5 million. The appeals court ruled that the the government is immune to monetary damages.
The case, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, alleged that the leaders of an Islamic charity and their lawyers were targeted by warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.
The Bush spy program was first disclosed by The New York Times in December 2005, and the government subsequently admitted that the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone calls without warrants if the government believed the person on the other end was overseas and associated with terrorism. The government also secretly enlisted the help of major U.S. telecoms, including AT&T, to spy on Americans’ phone and internet communications without getting warrants as required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law at the center of the al-Haramain dispute.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation believes that the government got off on a technicality, writing that while the court was sympathetic to al-Haramain, the court believed the group could only sue “government officials [acting] in their individual capacity” rather than the government as whole.
Via the EFF:
[T]he ruling certainly does not exonerate the government. To the contrary, the best that they could say is that they they got off on a pure technicality of Congressional drafting. There is nothing in this opinion, or in the whole course of this litigation, that undermines the basic revelation: that President Bush authorized the warrantless illegal and unconstitutional wiretapping of the two attorneys helping this accused — and now defunct — charity in their lawful, privileged communications with their client. No one should take this as a vindication of the Bush-era policies (or Obama’s continuation of them).