SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Center for Constitutional Rights has asked a federal judge to order the government to destroy or quarantine all surveillance records from the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. “It requires little imagination to see the continued risk of harm posed by the profoundly intrusive surveillance the NSA carried out with abandon for at least five years,” the center claims.
The nonprofit legal advocacy group says its lawyers “have every right to believe that attorney-client communications have been intercepted by the program,” and its staffers have had to forego or delay communicating with certain clients to evade government eavesdropping.
The NSA’s wiretapping program was initiated shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to spy on suspected terrorists by intercepting their phone calls to the United States.
The program was ruled unconstitutional in 2006 by U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of Michigan.
This March, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ruledthat the government had illegally eavesdropped on phone calls between the defunct charity Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and its attorneys.
Attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights asked Judge Walker to order the surveillance data destroyed, claiming “there is no viable legal argument that the program was legal.”
The center’s attorneys say they had to sift through all their post-2001 communications with foreign clients who are suing the U.S. government, “‘in order to evaluate whether confidences may have been breached by defendants’ illegal surveillance and whether measures ought to be taken in response.”
Though the program ended in 2007, the center says the possibility that the government kept records of NSA surveillance “creates a current risk that third parties who communicated with us previously will now be less willing to do so, knowing that the government may have been listening in on those earlier calls.”
The center admits the difficulty in specifying its injuries “without knowing precisely what the government may know as a result of its unlawful surveillance,” but argues that it has a professional responsibility to ensure the government does not gain an advantage “from having access to confidential information about potential witnesses and litigation strategy.”
“There is absolutely nothing that would risk disclosure of official secrets to have the court order the government to destroy (or quarantine) all records of surveillance of plaintiffs,” the center adds. “At a bare minimum, this court should order such relief.”