Feeds

Warrantless wiretap opponents lose brace of court cases

Noise on the wire

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

Opponents of the Bush administration's controversial warrantless wiretapping program have suffered a pair of defeats in their efforts to rein in the scheme.

In a 2-1 decision, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last week dismissed a legal challenge to the warrantless surveillance program brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The action was filed by the ACLU on behalf of journalists, lawyers and academics who say the spectre of Big Brother peering over their shoulder is impeding their ability to do their jobs.

The plaintiffs said their concerns were well founded but the Wisconsin appeal court dismissed the case because none of the plaintiffs knew for sure whether or not their communications had been placed under surveillance.

The ACLU said it was disappointed by the ruling which "insulates the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance of their telephone calls and e-mails". The organisation said it was reviewing its legal options following the ruling, including the possibility of taking its challenge to the US Supreme Court.

In a separate ruling, also delivered on Friday, a California appeal court ruled federal agents are entitled to monitor the web sites a suspect visits or the email addresses he exchanges messages with. The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco compared surveillance of internet activities to "pen register" devices, which were used to track the phone numbers suspects called rather than monitor the content of a conversations. Such devices were ruled legal by the Supreme Court in 1979, which ruled that numbers transmitted electronically between a suspect and a phone company do not enjoy any expectations of privacy.

Searches on suspects' surfing activities are no more intrusive than obtaining a list of phone numbers dialed or examining the outside of a mailed package, Judge Raymond Fisher said in the 3-0 ruling. The court made the ruling in considering a drug case referred to it by a lower court in the San Diego area. Dennis Alba was jailed for 30 years after he was convicted of running a lab manufacturing Ecstasy. Part of the evidence against him came from monitoring his activities on the net. He challenged the legality of this evidence gathering on appeal, an application the appeal judges rejected in confirming his earlier sentence, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The practice of so-called warrantless wiretapping came to light after the New York Times reported in December 2005 that the president had authorised the National Security Agency (NSA), the US government's signals intelligence agency, to intercept communications inside the US as part of the "War on Terror".

The ACLU's action is only one of several lawsuits launched in the wake of reports that AT&T and other telcos turned phone records over to the NSA without judicial authorisation. The NSA's "massive and illegal program" to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications remains the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and numerous others.®

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Murdoch to Europe: Inflict MORE PAIN on Google, please
'Platform for piracy' must be punished, or it'll kill us in FIVE YEARS
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.