Is Big Brother Watching You?

USC Gould School of Law • November 18, 2010
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By Maria Iacobo

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of the 1970s was intended to deter the widespread abuse of warrantless wiretapping. Should the Executive Branch desire to conduct such activity, FISA allowed them to petition a “secret court” and be granted a secret warrant.

“But after 9/11, this wasn’t good enough for the Bush administration,” said Lisa Jaskol, one of a team of attorneys that challenged the federal government’s right to secretly expand their warrantless wiretapping activities – and won. Jaskol, a law school guest of the American Constitution Society of Law and Policy, described the nearly five years of legal work involved in the case to USC Law students.

Earlier this year in San Francisco, U.S. district court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the federal government illegally wiretapped the phone conversations of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers. Some legal experts see this as a repudiation of the Bush Administration’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, begun after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The program allowed the National Security Agency to bypass the courts and intercept electronic communications believed to be connected with al-Qaeda.

The program ended in 2007 amid a nationwide debate on the limits of executive power and the balance between civil liberties and national security.

According to Jaskol, the Justice Department argued that the case should be dismissed because allowing it to move forward could reveal “state secrets.” But the judge ruled against their request, saying that it contradicted FISA. The case will now go before the 9th Circuit Court.

In the past year, the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the National Lawyers Guild have honored Lisa for her work in this landmark case.

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