The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;
Laurie Gindin Beacham, (212) 549-2666;

NSA Spies On Americans Outside The Law

Agency Skirts Broad Powers Authorized By Congress


National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting Americans' emails
and phone calls in recent months to an extent that exceeded even the
overbroad limits permitted under the controversial spying legislation
passed last summer. According to the New York Times, the NSA's
"overcollection" of American' communications has been "significant and

FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) was passed last July despite
opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy
advocates. It effectively legalized the secret warrantless surveillance
program President Bush approved in late 2001, but it also gave the
government new spying powers, including the power to conduct dragnet
surveillance of Americans' international communications. The ACLU filed
a federal lawsuit immediately after Congress passed the law challenging
its constitutionality. The lawsuit is still pending.
was repeatedly warned that this type of abuse would be the obvious
outcome of passing the FISA Amendments Act," said Caroline Fredrickson,
Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Congressional
leadership promised after this law's passage that it would be
reexamined along with the Patriot Act. It's time to fulfill that
promise and restore the checks and balances of our surveillance system.
Warrantless surveillance has no place in an America we can be proud of.
These revelations make it clear that Congress must now make a
commitment to rein in government surveillance."
ACLU is urging Congress to form a select committee to investigate
whether laws were broken in the Bush administration's efforts to fight
terrorism. A select committee with subpoena power would be able to
review past and present national security laws and activities, restore
the rule of law and help adopt fair standards for the future. Ideally,
reform legislation adopted as a consequence of the Select Committee
investigation - not unlike the reforms that resulted from the Church
Committee - would help ensure that future administrations follow the
law and respect individual rights, regardless of the party in power.
revelations are as alarming as they are predictable," said Jameel
Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "The FAA set
virtually no limits on the government's eavesdropping authority, but it
appears that the NSA has disregarded even what minimal limits existed.
The new law should have ensured that the government's surveillance
powers would be subject to meaningful judicial oversight. Instead the
new law allowed the NSA to operate without the safeguards that the
Constitution requires. The Bush administration argued that the law was
necessary to protect national security, but in fact the law implicates
all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or
criminal activity of any kind. The law was ill-advised, and today's
report only underscores that the law should be struck down as
The ACLU's lawsuit argues that the
FAA violates Americans' rights to free speech and privacy under the
First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The law permits the
government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a
court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it
intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why
it's conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to
the communication of wrongdoing. Plaintiffs in the ACLU's case include
journalists, attorneys and human rights organizations who count on
confidentiality to perform their jobs. They include:
  • The Nation and its contributing journalists Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges
  • Amnesty
    International USA, Global Rights, Global Fund for Women, Human Rights
    Watch, PEN American Center, Service Employees International Union,
    Washington Office on Latin America, and the International Criminal
    Defence Attorneys Association
  • Defense attorneys Dan Arshack, David Nevin, Scott McKay and Sylvia Royce
More information about the ACLU's efforts on FISA, including its lawsuit, are available online at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666