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Federal judge rules for Islamic charity in NSA wiretapping case

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] granted partial summary judgment [opinion, PDF] Wednesday in favor of an Islamic charity that claimed the federal government illegally wiretapped its conversations without a warrant. In its suit [JURIST report; EFF materials], the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation [JURIST news archive] asked the court to admit a confidential National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] document accidentally sent to its lawyers to show that the government had illegally spied on the group. Judge Vaughn Walker denied this request and ruled instead that non-confidential information established that the government had illegally wiretapped conversations between the group and overseas parties in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The court held that the government could not use the state secrets privilege [JURIST news archive] to refuse to answer whether it had recorded conversations without a FISA warrant. The court gave the charity until April 16 to decide whether it wants to proceed with or dismiss remaining claims against the government.

Al-Haramain filed a motion [JURIST report] for partial summary judgment on the FISA claim last July. In February 2009, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] affirmed the district court's ruling [JURIST report] denying a government appeal to keep the NSA call log secret, despite its accidental release to Al-Haramain in 2004. The call log had been deemed a state secret [JURIST report], but the decision required the government to allow the foundation to view the document. JURIST contributor Victor Comras said that Walker had done a "truly remarkable job" balancing national security and due process [JURIST comment] in the case. Walker had previously dismissed the suit [JURIST report], finding that Al-Haramain lacked a cause of action because the state secrets privilege trumped procedural requirements under FISA.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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