Constitutional Law

Cleric’s Appeal Challenges Spy Program

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A Muslim cleric’s appeal of a terrorism conviction may represent the best chance of a federal appeals court ruling on the legality of a controversial wiretapping program.

Yassin M. Aref of Albany, N.Y., was convicted of supporting terrorism by helping launder money for a supposed terrorism plot that turned out to be a sting operation. Aref’s lawyers claim he was illegally wiretapped under a National Security Agency spy program, the New York Times reports.

The case doesn’t have the standing problems present in civil challenges to the National Security Agency spy program, the newspaper says. “The case may represent the best chance for an appellate ruling about the legality of the NSA program, which monitored the international communications of people in the United States without court approval,” the newspaper says.

A federal judge has issued a classified ruling in the case denying a defense request to see classified documents about the NSA surveillance program. The case is now pending before the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Corey Stoughton, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said “dodges” available to the government in civil cases may not be present in Aref’s appeal. “This case might be able to put this issue to the test,” she told the newspaper.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering standing issues in two consolidated civil appeals challenging terrorism surveillance tactics. The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a different civil case on standing grounds last month.

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