West Law Report

Spy and Terrorist

Posted in Lawrence Wright, Terrorist Surveillance Program by mrkooenglish on May 25, 2008

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(Photo: John Ritter / New Yorker)

Read Lawrence Wright’s two articles in New Yorker about spy and terrorist. The Spymaster: Can Mike McConnell fix America’s intelligence community? (21 Jan 2008) and The Rebellion Within: An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism (2 Jun 2008).

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Judge Posner: Privacy, Surveillance, and Law

Judge Richard Posner in Surveillance Symposium of University of Chicago Law Review (Feb 2008) (.pdf) (16 pages):

“Privacy” is a word of many meanings. The meaning that is most relevant to this essay is secrecy—the interest in concealing personal information about oneself. But I need to distinguish between a per-son’s pure interest in concealment of personal information and his instrumental interest, which is based on fear that the information will be used against him.

In many cultures, including our own, there is a nudity taboo. Except in the sex industry (prostitution, striptease, por-nography, and so forth), nudist colonies, and locker rooms, people generally are embarrassed to be seen naked by strangers, particularly of the opposite sex, even when there are no practical consequences. Why this is so is unclear; but it is a brute fact about the psychology of most people in our society. A woman (an occasional man as well) might be disturbed to learn that nude photographs taken surrepti-tiously of her had been seen by a stranger in a remote country before being destroyed. That invasion of privacy would not have harmed her in any practical sense. Yet it might cause her at least transitory emo-tional distress, and that is a harm even if it seems to have no rational basis (in that respect it is no different from having nightmares after watching a horror movie—another emotional reaction that is real de-spite being irrational from an instrumental standpoint). But if the stranger used the photos to blackmail her, or, in an effort to destroy her budding career as an anchorwoman for the Christian Broadcasting System, published the photos in Hustler magazine, she would have a different and stronger grievance.

In many cases of instrumental concealment of personal informa-tion, the motive is disreputable (deceptive, manipulative): a person might want to conceal his age, or a serious health problem, from a pro-spective spouse or his criminal record from a prospective employer. But the motive is not disreputable in all cases; the blackmailed woman in my example was not trying to mislead anyone in resisting the publi-cation of the photos.

State Secrets

Posted in Terrorist Surveillance Program by mrkooenglish on May 21, 2008

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(Photo: Guy Billout / New Yorker)

Patrick R. Keefe reported in New Yorker “A government misstep in a wiretapping case”.

Sixth Circuit Denies Standing To Challenge Terrorist Surveillance Program

Harvard Law Review case summary (Issue 121, Jan 2008): ACLU v. NSA, 493 F.3d 644 (6th Cir. 2007) (.pdf) (8 pages)

The Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) offers a conundrum for the courts and would-be challengers. Many experts have argued that the program was illegal on the grounds that it ignored the warrant requirement congress prescribed in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 19781 (FISA) and that it might have violated the Fourth Amendment. But the state secrets doctrine has prevented potential plaintiffs from obtaining proof that they were among the group surveilled under the TSP.3 In a recent decision, ACLU v. NSA, the Sixth Circuit accordingly held that a group of plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the TSP because they could not show that they personally were injured by it. The judges relied on a strict construction of standing for Fourth Amendment injuries, one developed in cases where plaintiffs sought to challenge individual searches of other people. In the context of secret surveillance programs by the government, the reality is that no plaintiff will be in a position to establish injury with anything approaching certainty. Hence, a more appropriate approach would be to allow standing where plaintiffs can show even a low level of probability they have been or will be among the injured.