Originally published: April 4, 2010
Last updated: April 4, 2010 - 5:12pm
A federal judge ruled March 31 that the National Security Agency's program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration's effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush. Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004.
Declaring that the plaintiffs had been "subjected to unlawful surveillance," the judge said the government was liable to pay them damages. The ruling delivered a blow to the Bush administration's claims that its surveillance program, which Mr. Bush secretly authorized shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was lawful. Under the program, the National Security Agency monitored Americans' international e-mail messages and phone calls without court approval, even though the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, required warrants. The Justice Department said it was reviewing the decision and had made no decision about whether to appeal.
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