9th Circuit Court

Spy Challenge Before 9th Circuit

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A federal appeals court will hear arguments tomorrow on whether to dismiss two lawsuits challenging a National Security Administration surveillance program based on the government’s assertion of a state secrets privilege.

Whatever the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to have the last word in the cases, sources told the Washington Post.

The suits are among dozens of challenges to NSA terrororism spy programs that are consolidated in San Francisco federal courts. The Post says sources have described the data-mining program as “a vast effort” to analyze e-mail and telephone communications.

A former AT&T technician claims in one of the cases that the phone company had a secret room in San Francisco used in an NSA dragnet to recover online communications. That suit was brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“If the courts take the position that the state-secrets privilege prevents the case from going forward, I think effectively there’ll never be a decision about the legality of the program,” said Cindy Cohn, the foundation’s legal director.

A lawyer in the second case said that, because of security concerns, he wasn’t permitted to see the government’s full brief and had to write his own arguments under the watchful eye of a Justice Department security officer, according to a New York Times story covered in this post.

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