Warrantless Wiretapping : A Timeline

In December 2005, the New York Times broke a story about the Bush Administration monitoring domestic telephone communications without first obtaining a warrant. The affair, which began no later than 2001, became known as warrantless wiretaps.

Legal challenges to the program were given new life in December 2011.

This page provides a chronology (reverse order) of key cases and events. Much of this material prior to 2009 appeared on USPolitics.About.com when I was a writer there.

January – December 2012

3 January 2012

Remember The Bush Warrantless Wiretaps?
As 2011 came to a close, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “reinstated a closely watched lawsuit accusing the federal government of working with the nation’s largest telecommunication companies to illegally funnel Americans’ electronic communications to the National Security Agency without court warrants.”

January – December 2011

4 October 2011

Second Circuit Allows Constitutional Challenge to Warrantless Wiretapping to Proceed on Merits
The Second Circuit recently denied the government’s petition for a rehearing en banc, thereby allowing the constitutional challenge to a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) to proceed on the merits.

23 September 2011

2nd Circuit Green Lights Suit Challenging Warrantless Wiretapping
A lawsuit challenging the U.S. government’s warrantless wiretapping law can proceed.  The 2nd Circuit Wednesday denied a request from the government to have the case challenging the FISA Amendments Act reheard by all of the court’s judges, allowing the suit to move forward and upholding a three-judge panel’s March decision that the plaintiffs have standing to sue.  The case is Amnesty International USA et al. v. James Clapper Jr. et al., 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 09-4112.

30 August 2011

Bush-Era Warrantless Wiretapping Program on Trial Tomorrow in Seattle
Big Brother really is watching you. And reading your e-mails. And tracking which websites you visit… Two key appeals cases will be heard in Seattle federal court tomorrow… The first, Jewel v. NSA, was filed by the EFF in 2006, “on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.” … The second case, Hepting v. AT&T, covers much the same ground.

30 August 2011

Rights Group Slams Obama Over Warrantless Wiretapping
On Monday, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a brief in federal appeals court in an attempt to reopen a years-old case over the surveillance program. CCR’s original lawsuit, CCR v. Bush, was filed in 2006.

23 May 2011

Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?
On June 13th, a fifty-four-year-old former government employee named Thomas Drake is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Baltimore, where he will face some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen. A former senior executive at the National Security Agency, the government’s electronic-espionage service, he is accused, in essence, of being an enemy of the state.

16 May 2011

New Yorker Sheds New Light on NSA’s Warrantless Wiretapping and Data Mining
New details about the NSA’s post–Sept. 11 domestic surveillance programs have emerged in a stunning New Yorker article about NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who faces trial next month for allegedly leaking information about waste and mismanagement at the agency.

22 February 2011

Feds Appeal Warrantless-Wiretapping Defeat
The Obama administration is appealing the first — and likely only — lawsuit resulting in a ruling against the National Security Agency’s secret warrantless-surveillance program adopted in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks.

January – December 2010

25 December 2010

Judge Awards $2.5 Million To Lawyers In Yoo Case

John Yoo’s November 2001 legal justification for a secret wiretapping program was a hit with George W. Bush’s White House but got bad reviews from other quarters, including Yoo’s successors in the Justice Department and the department’s inspector general. Add another critic to the list: Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco, who awarded more than $40,000 in damages and $2.5 million in attorneys’ fees this week to a target of Bush-era wiretapping.

21 December 2010

Warrantless-Wiretap Win Nets Victims a Paltry $40K
A federal judge on Tuesday awarded $20,400 each to two American lawyers illegally wiretapped by the George W. Bush administration, and granted their counsel $2.5 million for the costs litigating the case for more than four years. It was the first and likely only lawsuit in which there was a ruling against the former administration’s secret National Security Agency surveillance program adopted in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

26 August 2010

Ninth Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Warrantless GPS Tracking
Federal agents can now enter your property without warrant and track you in nine western states.

13 August 2010

EFF Files Appeal of Warrantless Wiretapping Case Jewel v. NSA 
FF today asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate its landmark case against the federal government for warrantlessly wiretapping millions of ordinary Americans. The case, called Jewel v. NSA is part of EFF’s ongoing efforts to Stop the Spying.

29 July 2010

ACLU: Bush Anti-Terrorism Practices Persist
An American Civil Liberties Union study says President Obama has “enshrined” many of the anti-terrorism practices of the Bush administration — from surveillance to Guantanamo to targeted killings.

31 March 2010

Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency’s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush.

30 March 2010

Government held liable in warrantless wiretapping case
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the government is liable for illegally wiretapping an Islamic charity without a valid search warrant. The ruling in Northern California District Court reaffirmed an earlier decision that the warrantless wiretaps conducted on an Oregon-based Islamic non-profit organization were illegal.

January – December 2009

16 July 2009

Why We Endorsed Warrantless Wiretaps
By John Yoo . It was instantly clear after Sept. 11, 2001, that our security agencies knew little about al Qaeda’s inner workings, could not detect its operatives’ entry into the country, nor predict where it might strike next.

 July 2009

Report: NSA surveillance program too secret for its own good
A new report (PDF) from the Offices of Inspectors General of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, NSA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence shows in some detail how our government took the bad idea of building powerful computers to sniff out a terrorist needle in a digital haystack, then made it even less useful in practice.

4 June 2009

Judge Tosses Warrantless Wiretap Case
A federal judge in San Francisco has thrown out more than 30 lawsuits against AT&T and other phone companies. The suits claimed the telecoms illegally cooperated with the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist surveillance program. But the same judge kept alive similar lawsuits against the government…. Last summer, Congress rewrote the rules for wiretapping, and also granted retroactive immunity to the phone companies. As a result, cases against the telecoms have been dismissed. Cases against the government are still alive, and one in particular leads the pack, Al-Haramain v. Bush.

17 April 2009

Obama on Warrantless Surveillance: As Bad As Bush? Worse
Barack Obama, who at one point was looking at least a little better than his predecessor on the issue of warrantless domestic surveillance, may turn out to be just as bad. 

22 January 2009

Obama Sides With Bush in Spy Case
The Obama administration fell in line with the Bush administration Thursday when it urged a federal judge to set aside a ruling in a closely watched spy case weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants… The order came in response to lawsuits by civil liberties groups in 2005 after news reports disclosed the wiretapping.

15 January 2009

Court Affirms Wiretapping Without Warrants
In a rare public ruling, a secret federal appeals court has said telecommunications companies must cooperate with the government to intercept international phone calls and e-mail of American citizens suspected of being spies or terrorists…. the ruling, handed down in August 2008 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review and made public Thursday, did not directly address whether President Bush was within his constitutional powers in ordering domestic wiretapping without warrants, without first getting Congressional approval, after the terrorist attacks of 2001.

6 January 2009

U.S. judge revives lawsuit over Bush wiretaps
A defunct Islamic charity in Oregon that says it was illegally wiretapped by federal authorities can pursue its lawsuit challenging President Bush’s clandestine eavesdropping program, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled Monday. In reviving a suit filed by Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the group had enough publicly available evidence to show that it could reasonably believe it had been wiretapped.

January – December 2008

1 November 2008

Judge Seeks Wiretapping Documents
A judge has ordered the Justice Department to produce White House memorandums that provide the legal basis for the Bush administration’s post-Sept. 11 warrantless wiretapping program.

9 October 2008

Exclusive: Inside Account of U.S. Eavesdropping on Americans
Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia.

18 September 2008

EFF Sues Bush, Cheney Over Warrantless Wiretaps
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California-based privacy group, filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and several other administration officials on behalf of AT&T customers in an effort to stop the government’s warrantless wiretapping program…The EFF and five AT&T customers – Carolyn Jewel, Tash Hepting, Gregory Hicks, Erik Knutzen and Joice Walton – filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

8 September 2008

Widespread cell phone location snooping by NSA?
If you thought that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping was limited to AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, think again

10 July 2008

Bush Wins Warrantless Wiretapping War
President George Bush has signed into law a measure that overhauls wiretapping rules and grants immunity to telecom companies that cooperated with a secret warrantless wiretap program. The administration established the spying operation after Sept. 11 to gain greater flexibility in eavesdropping on suspected terrorists’ conversations.

09 July 2008

Congress Votes To Immunize Lawbreaking Telecoms
The Democratic-led Congress this afternoon voted to put an end to the NSA spying scandal, as the Senate approved a bill — approved last week by the House — to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, terminate all pending lawsuits against them, and vest whole new warrantless eavesdropping powers in the President. The vote in favor of the new FISA bill was 69-28. Barack Obama joined every Senate Republican (and every House Republican other than one) by voting in favor of it, while his now-vanquished primary rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, voted against it. John McCain wasn’t present for any of the votes, but shared Obama’s support for the bill.

07 July 2008

Video: Daniel Ellsburg on FISA
Tim Ferriss interviews Daniel Ellsberg, the man who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, the amendment that will allow the government to spy on American citizens without a warrant

19 February 2008

Supremes Won’t Hear Warrantless Wiretapping Case
The Supreme Court turned down Tuesday a request to take up a challenge to the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, adding to the Administration’s string of legal victories in challenges to the controversial, five-year-long program. The ACLU, representing lawyers, journalists and Muslim groups, challenged the program in 2006, arguing that the warrantless spying on international communications violated the Fourth Amendment and put a chill on the free speech of journalists.

08 January 2008

Obama: No warrantless wiretaps if you elect me
[U]nder an Obama presidency, Americans will be able to leave behind the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and “wiretaps without warrants,” he said. (He was referring to the lingering legal fallout over reports that the National Security Agency scooped up Americans’ phone and Internet activities without court orders, ostensibly to monitor terrorist plots, in the years after the September 11 attacks.)

January – December 2007

16 October 2007

Qwest Official Says NSA Wiretaps Preceded 9-11
Former Qwest CEO Joseph P. Nacchio, who has been convicted of insider trading, “said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks … [suggesting] that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.”

26 September 2007

Court Strikes Down 2 Key Patriot Act Provisions
A federal district court judge struck down two key pillars of the Patriot Act Wednesday, ruling that using a secret spying court to wiretap and secretly search Americans’ homes for criminal prosecutions violates the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures… The ruling comes out of a lawsuit brought by Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield, who was arrested by the FBI shortly after train bombings in Madrid, Spain.

15 August 2007

NSA Judge: ‘I feel like I’m in Alice in Wonderland’
Ryan Singel and David Kravets are blogging the U.S. 9th Circuit hearing on the NSA’s spying, and AT&T’s alleged complicity, reporting live from the San Francisco courthouse. The hearing involves two cases: one aimed at AT&T for allegedly helping the government with a widespread datamining program allegedly involving domestic and international phone calls and internet use; the other a direct challenge to the government’s admitted warrantless wiretapping of overseas phone calls.

08 August 2007

Warrantless Wiretaps: Temporarily Legal
Democrats in Congress capitulated when President Bush insisted he would veto a Democratic-sponsored bill that approved limited warrantless wiretaps of foreign communications but also included some oversight by FISA and the Justice Department Inspector General.

18 May 2007

More On Comey, NSA and The Politicization of Justice
This week’s revelations about the warrantless eavesdropping program that the Bush Administration launched post-9-11 highlights the politicization of the Department of Justice — a politicization that came to light with the mass firing of United States Attorneys.

16 May 2007

More Shades of Watergate
The AttorneyGate affair may have more in common with Watergate than Beltway shorthand for “Presidential scandal.” The day after the number two guy at the Department of Justice announces his resignation … the former number two guy tells a tale worthy of a Hollywood potboiler. Three years ago in March, he says, then White House Counsel Gonzales and then White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to coerce Attorney General John Ashcroft into reauthorizing the Bush warrantless wiretapping scheme.

January – December 2006

17 August 2006

NSA Wiretaps Unconstitutional; White House Appeals
The Bush Administration suffered yet another blow from the courts when a US District Court Judge ruled Thursday that the NSA wiretapping program is unconstitutional. In the 43-page opinion, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor wrote: “It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights.”

15 May 2006

ABC: Administration Tracking Media Calls
ABC reports on its blog, The Blotter, that a confidential source reveals “the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.” The Chicago Tribune blog, The Swamp echos the story, noting that the government official told Ross and Esposito to “Get new cellphones.”

13 May 2006

Phone Records, Privacy and Congress
Civil libertarians seem to be the only group truly incensed over a USA Today report that Verizon, AT&T and Bell South have complicitly handed over customer telephone records to the National Security Agency since 9-11.

11 May 2006

NSA Has Database of All US Phone Calls: Report
The NSA is trying to assemble a database of every phone call ever made inside the United States, according to a USA Today report. Citing people whose names are a secret, the newspaper claims the National Security Agency, whose business is secrecy, has been secretly amassing Òthe phone call records of tens of millions of Americans,Ó with the contracted assistance of telecom giants AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. The purpose of the mission is, of course, to fight terror.

14 February 2006

Justice Agrees to Release Secret Wiretap Records
Facing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice has conceded that it could by March 3, begin releasing the internal memos relied on by the White House in justifying and authorizing the controversial ÒwarrantlessÓ wiretap program conducted by the National Security Agency.

10 February 2006

Ipso Wiretap Poll : Half Believe Wiretap Warrants Necessary
These polls show only that about half of the American public believes the President should be required to use a warrant. Given the many other areas of public life where this country is divided almost 50-50, this should be no great suprise. Or news.

17 January 2006

Gore Calls for Special Counsel to Investigate Wiretaps
Former Vice President and Presidential Candidate Al Gore called on the Attorney General to immediately appoint a special counsel “to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the President.” In response to a question from ABC News, Gore agreed that “President Bush’s domestic spying program” might be an impeachable offense, noting that “Article II of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was warrantless wiretapping that the President said was ‘necessary’ for national security.”

5 January 2006

Presidential Authority to Conduct Warrantless Electronic Surveillance to Gather Foreign Intelligence Information (pdf)
CRS: Recent media revelations that the President authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect signals intelligence1 from communications involving U.S. persons within the United States, without obtaining a warrant or court order, raise numerous questions regarding the President’s authority to order warrantless electronic surveillance.

December 2005

19 December 2005

Times Sat on Wiretapping Story for a Year
The New York Times said that it had sat on the story about warrantless, domestic electronic surveillance, “for a year” at the request of the White House. In part, Executive Editor Bill Keller said that the Time revisited its decision to hold the story because the NSA had “authority to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without a warrant … It is that expansion of authority — not the need for a robust anti-terror intelligence operation — that prompted debate within the government, and that is the subject of the article.”

19 December 2005

Bush Defends By-Passing Courts, Asserts Wiretaps Are Legal
In a press conference, President Bush peppered his remarks with 9-11 (seven references in 17 paragraphs in the press statement) and the cloak of the 9-11 Commission while asserting that the National Security Agency wiretapping reported by the New York Times last week was constitutional. Moreover, he insisted he would continue the non-court-sanctioned program indefinitely: “so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.”

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