The federal government defended its warrantless domestic surveillance program in court for the first time Monday, saying it is well within the president’s authority, but that proving that would require revealing state secrets.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor was hearing arguments in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the National Security Agency.
The ACLU wants the program halted immediately, arguing that it violates the rights to free speech and privacy, and says the government has already publicly revealed enough information about the program for Taylor to find it illegal.
The Bush administration wants Taylor to dismiss the lawsuit.
“This case does not involve easy questions,” government attorney Anthony J. Coppolino said. “It’s a case that requires a robust factual record.”
Coppolino alluded several times to a classified court filing, which Taylor indicated she had not yet reviewed. In that brief, “we demonstrate that it (the program) is narrowly and specifically focused on al-Qaida,” Coppolino said.
The plaintiffs do not have access to the classified brief, and even the judge would have to make a special request and travel to Washington to read it, said Ann Beeson, the ACLU’s associate legal director and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
Internationals wary to talk
The administration has acknowledged eavesdropping on Americans’ international communications without first seeking court approval. President Bush has said the eavesdropping is legal because of a congressional resolution passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism.
The parties in the ACLU lawsuit, who include journalists, scholars and lawyers, say the program has hampered their ability to do their jobs because it has made international contacts, such as sources and potential witnesses, wary of sharing information over the phone.
Taylor did not indicate when she might rule.
Monday’s hearing was the first time the issues were argued in court. A similar lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights, but no hearings have been held there yet.