Federal judge awards damages to Islamic charity in NSA wiretapping case

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] on Tuesday ordered [text, PDF] the US government to pay more than $2.5 million in damages and attorney's fees to an Islamic charity for illegally wiretapping its conversations without a warrant. Judge Vaughn Walker found in March that the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] warrantless wiretapping program violated the rights of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation [JURIST news archive] under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text], granting the foundation's motion for summary judgment despite refusing to admit a confidential NSA document into evidence. While Walker ordered the government to pay attorney's fees and damages Tuesday, he declined to order punitive damages [NYT report], concluding that the government had not shown "reckless or callous indifference" to the plaintiffs' rights. Walker also declined to make a "declaration that defendants' warrantless electronic surveillance was unlawful as a violation of FISA," or to "order that any information obtained by means of the defendants' unlawful surveillance shall not be used by the United States government in any proceeding and shall be expunged from defendants' files and records."

Al-Haramain filed a motion [JURIST report] for partial summary judgment in July 2009. In February 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] affirmed the district court's ruling [JURIST reports] denying a government appeal to keep the NSA call log secret, despite its accidental release to Al-Haramain in 2004. The call log had been deemed a state secret [JURIST report], but the decision required the government to allow the foundation to view the document. JURIST contributor Victor Comras said that Walker had done a "truly remarkable job" balancing national security and due process [JURIST comment] in the case. Walker had previously dismissed the suit [JURIST report], finding that Al-Haramain lacked a cause of action because the state secrets privilege trumped procedural requirements under FISA

 

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