Privacy Law

Two Muslim American lawyers were subject to NSA email surveillance, report says

Two Muslim American lawyers were among five prominent Americans whose emails were apparently monitored by the National Security Agency, according to a published report.

Both lawyers say they believe they were targeted because of their religion, the Intercept reports in a story based on documents released Edward Snowden. Legal Times has a story on the report. The Intercept identifies the two lawyers as:

• Asim Ghafoor, who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases, the Sudanese government and the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct Islamic charity. The U.S. government froze the charity’s assets in 2004 based on a finding that the group supported terrorism. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in 2010 that federal authorities violated the law by wiretapping Ghafoor and another foundation lawyer. A federal appeals court overturned Walker’s award of damages and attorney fees in the case in this 2012 decision (PDF).

• Faisal Gill, who served in the Department of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration and unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican. After leaving government, Gill founded a law firm with Ghafoor and did contract work for the Sudanese government in one case. Gill was also a consultant for the American Muslim Council, founded by a political activist who later pleaded guilty in a Libyan plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

The Intercept story says well-known law firms represented clients and interests similar to those of Gill and Ghafoor, but none of their lawyers appeared to be subjected to surveillance.

A statement released Wednesday by U.S. Department of Justice said intelligence agencies never monitored “political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.”

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