Commentary by Joy Olson, WOLA Executive Director
Late Friday, the Obama administration decided it will seek to overturn the ruling of a lower court and will ask the Supreme Court to rule on the right of a coalition of groups—including WOLA—to challenge warrantless wiretapping.
The FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which allows the federal government to monitor U.S. international phone calls and emails without a warrant, was passed in 2008 and challenged in court soon after. The case against the FAA argues that warrantless wiretapping violates fundamental civil rights by giving the executive branch unchecked power to secretly monitor Americans' international communications.
WOLA chose to be a part of this lawsuit because, as an organization, we feel that when people in Latin America are talking on the phone to WOLA, they need to be confident that they are talking with us and not with the U.S. government. Knowing that our conversations can be monitored could affect people’s willingness to speak freely with us.
Soon after the law passed in 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged it on behalf of a broad coalition of labor, media, and human rights organizations, including WOLA. The Justice Department has defended the law claiming that these groups shouldn’t even be able to sue without first proving that they have, in fact, been monitored under the program. But the law is so secretive that the government refuses to provide such information. In March 2011, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that groups do have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the law, and in September the full circuit rejected a request from the Obama administration asking the ruling to be reconsidered. On Friday, February 17, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to review the federal appeals court ruling, in an attempt to keep the law intact and without oversight.
The issue going before the Supreme Court is simply whether or not we will even be allowed to make our case in a lower court that warrantless wiretapping violates our rights. We are part of this lawsuit because we can’t let fear and secrecy trump our rights or keep us from doing our work.
For more information on the lawsuit challenging the law: http://www.aclu.org/national-security/amnesty-et-al-v-clapper
For more information on the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit related to the FAA: www.aclu.org/faa