SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The chief judge for the Northern District of California rejected the Bush administration’s claims that the president can override federal wiretap laws. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled Wednesday that federal wiretapping law is the “exclusive” means by which the president can wiretap Americans.
Walker ruled in a case brought by an Oregon-based charity, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which says it has proof that the federal government spied on it illegally.
The Justice Department has tried for more than two years to kill the case, claiming that any evidence in it is a “state secret.”
Al-Haramain says it has proof the National Security Agency spied on it illegally under the secret program President Bush authorized. The proof is a government document that federal officials gave Al-Haramain, revealing the secret spying program. The FBI demanded the document back, and got it. Judge Walker’s ruling does not allow Al-Haramain to use information from the document, but he refused the government’s demand to dismiss the case.
Judge Walker, who was appointed to the federal bench by the first President Bush, ruled that Congress established the wiretapping laws in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires warrants for wiretaps from the secret FISA court.
“Whatever power the executive may otherwise have had in this regard, FISA limits the power of the executive branch to conduct such activities and it limits the executive branch’s authority to assert the state secrets privilege in response to challenges to the legality of its foreign intelligence surveillance activities,” Judge Walker wrote in his 56-page ruling.
The ruling may be especially significant because the lawsuits involving telecom companies that cooperated in the NSA spying program have been consolidated and are being heard in Judge Walker’s court.