August 17, 2006

Judge Orders Halt to NSA Wiretap Program

DETROIT (Reuters) - A federal judge in Detroit on Thursday ordered the Bush administration to halt the National Security Agency's program of domestic eavesdropping, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling was a setback for the Bush administration, which has defended the program as an essential tool in its war on terrorism.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor said the controversial practice of warrantless wiretapping known as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" violated free speech rights, protections against unreasonable searches and the constitutional check on the power of the presidency.

The program has been widely criticized by civil rights activists and raised concern among lawmakers, including some in President George W. Bush's own Republican Party, who say the president may have overstepped his powers by authorizing it.

The government had asked for the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union to be thrown out, arguing that any court action on the case would jeopardize secrets in the war on terrorism.

Bush authorized the NSA program after the September 11 attacks on the United States, and it became public last year.

The program allows the government to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without obtaining a warrant, if in pursuit of al Qaeda.

Democrats and some Republicans say the program could overstep Bush's authority as commander in chief and appears to violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. FISA requires warrants for individual eavesdropping on suspects inside the United States.