A federal judge Thursday halted a controversial warrantless wiretapping program undertaken by the Bush administration in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
A U.S. district court judge in Detroit, Michigan struck down the National Security Agency's program to secretly listen in on international telephone calls to or from the United States without obtaining a warrant. The judge, Anna Diggs Taylor ruled the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" unconstitutional, saying that it violates the right to free speech and privacy.
The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and several legal and advocacy groups, all of which welcomed the ruling. Arsalan Iftikhar directs legal affairs for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also a plaintiff. He spoke with VOA after the ruling and praised the decision.
"We believe it is a victory for the American people and the Constitution that government has no right to arbitrarily data-mine or spy on Americans without any probable cause of a crime," said Arsalan Iftikhar. "We are not a police state; we are a thriving democracy, and we need to uphold the letter and the law of the constitution. And that is what the federal judge did today."
The White House reacted promptly, expressing sharp disagreement with the ruling and stating the administration's intent to seek an immediate stay of the decision while the case is appealed. In a statement, Press Secretary Tony Snow said the Terrorist Surveillance Program is grounded in law and has proven to be one of the United States' most critical and effective tools in the war on terrorism.
The public first learned of the program last year from news media reports, and President Bush quickly sought to reassure the public by stating that the NSA is only eavesdropping on telephone conversations where officials have reason to believe that one of the parties is a terrorist operative. Mr. Bush remarked at the time, if al-Qaida is calling into the United States, "we want to know about it."
U.S. law permits government wiretapping, but requires officials to obtain a warrant to do so. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, enacted in the late 1970s, established a special court for obtaining such warrants.