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An Oregon District Court has struck down two sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as amended by the Patriot Act for violating the Fourth Amendment. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1804 and 1823 allow the government to conduct surveillance without a warrant when collection of foreign intelligence is “a significant purpose” of the surveillance. A line of cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment's probable cause and warrant requirements has held that foreign intelligence must be the “primary purpose” of such surveillance in order to square with the Constitution.
The case began with the misidentification of a fingerprint in the investigation of 2004's train bombings in Madrid. The FBI mistakenly identified Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim convert, as a suspect in that act of terrorism. Before arresting him, the Bureau accordingly searched his house and office, put him under round-the-clock surveillance, and wiretapped his phone, all without judicial oversight, and all permitted under the language of the Patriot Act's revisions to FISA.
Mayfield settled part of the suit for $2 million dollars, but the settlement left the door open for the attorney to challenge the law that had authorized his surveillance. A Department of Justice internal probe called the Mayfield investigation inappropriate and potentially motivated by his Muslim faith.
Yesterday's District Court opinion stressed the importance of the 4th Amendment's check against such abuses: "For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law - with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised."
Photo courtesy nolifebeforecoffee.