January 15, 2009

A Going Away Present [10:36 am]

Intelligence Court Rules Wiretapping Program Legal (pdf)

A federal intelligence court, in a rare public opinion, is expected to issue a major ruling validating the power of the president and Congress to wiretap international phone calls and intercept e-mail messages without a court order, even when Americans’ private communications may be involved.

The court decision is expected to be disclosed as early as Thursday in an unclassified, redacted form. It was made in December by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which has issued only two prior rulings in its 30-year history.

The decision marks the first time since the disclosure of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program three years ago that an appellate court has addressed the constitutionality of the federal government’s wiretapping powers. In validating the government’s wide authority to collect foreign intelligence, it may offer legal credence to the Bush administration’s repeated assertions that the president has constitutional authority to act without specific court approval in ordering national security eavesdropping.

[...] The court ruling grew out of a previously undisclosed challenge from a telecommunications provider, which questioned the constitutional authority of the executive branch in ordering it to capture and turn over international communications without court authority, according to the person with knowledge of the opinion.

The telecommunications company, which was not identified, apparently refused to comply with the order and instead challenged the legal basis of the order under the 2007 law in a claim before the FISA court.

The FISA court rejected the telecommunication companies’ challenge. [...]

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