Edward J. Snowden

In too many ways, 2013 was a year that vindicated the long-standing paranoia of many Americans, particularly the more conservative. A bewildering number of stories littered the news that seemed to confirm exactly the sort of gross government overreach that previously sounded like a delusion of someone whose eyes were scanning the skies for black helicopters. In spring 2013, for example, we learned that the IRS had been targeting the 501(c)(3) applications of conservative and libertarian organizations, apparently based solely on their political and philosophical affiliations. Nothing in 2013, though, fanned the flames of political paranoia quite like revelations of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs.

In Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, decided in February, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Amnesty International’s constitutional challenge to a portion of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In its 5-4 opinion, the Court found that Amnesty lacked Article III standing, in part because the plaintiffs could not show that they had necessarily been targeted for surveillance. When Edward Snowden later disclosed details of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, civil libertarians experienced something of a Pyrrhic victory. Standing would not be a problem in many future lawsuits because the revelation of PRISM established that millions of Americans had been subject to some NSA spying. The only question was whether that surveillance amounted to a violation of the law.

As we leave 2013 and 2014 dawns, some new developments have emerged . . . .

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There is a tension between laws that encourage individuals to blow the whistle on government wrongdoing and laws that impose the harshest civil and criminal penalties for disclosing secrets. Whether one considers mega-leakers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to be heroes or traitors, the legal implications of their cases are undeniably fascinating.

On September 18 at 7 p.m., ATL is hosting a free networking cocktail reception in New York, where we’ll discuss the recent leaks of U.S. government data. Our special guest will be criminal defense and whistleblower attorney John Howley, who will examine how the law has been applied in controversial cases from Daniel Ellsberg to Snowden and Manning. Gain an appreciation for the complex ethical issues lawyers face when advising and representing whistleblowers and alleged traitors.

Please join us on September 18 by RSVPing for the reception below (and/or the pre-reception CLE course that starts at 5:30 p.m.):

The event is sponsored by our friends at Access Data with support from Lateral Link and Learnvest.

There is a tension between laws that encourage individuals to blow the whistle on government wrongdoing and laws that impose the harshest civil and criminal penalties for disclosing secrets. Whether one considers mega-leakers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to be heroes or traitors, the legal implications of their cases are undeniably fascinating.

On September 18 at 7 p.m., ATL is hosting a free networking cocktail reception in New York, where we’ll discuss the recent leaks of U.S. government data. Our special guest will be criminal defense and whistleblower attorney John Howley, who will examine how the law has been applied in controversial cases from Daniel Ellsberg to Snowden and Manning. Gain an appreciation for the complex ethical issues lawyers face when advising and representing whistleblowers and alleged traitors.

Please join us on September 18 by RSVPing for the reception below (and/or the pre-reception CLE course that starts at 5:30 p.m.):

The event is sponsored by our friends at Access Data with support from Lateral Link and Learnvest.

The administration wants Snowden back badly enough that it has let this singular aspect cloud its judgement. Obama recently stated he won’t be meeting with Putin, stating Russia’s harboring of Snowden as a factor (rather than Russia’s multiple issues with human rights). Rather than engage in the debate Obama claimed he “welcomed,” the administration is circling the wagons, as evidenced in the petty statement it issued in reference to Rep. Justin Amash’s NSA-defunding amendment. Don’t govern angry, as they say.

There are plenty of people who believe Snowden is a hero. Many others believe the opposite. The problem is the middle ground is pretty much nonexistent. Allowing Snowden to go free would appease the former, but allow him to continue exposing the NSA’s surveillance programs. Locking him up wouldn’t do much either, other than allow the government to avenge its embarrassment. It won’t stop the leaks, however, at least not if Snowden’s “dead man’s switch” works as intended. The Guardian is already in possession of thousands of documents. Capturing Snowden will only hasten their release.

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* With a sharp focus on the Supreme Court and the legal definition of equality, only one thing’s for sure with respect to this week’s anticipated rulings: at least one group of people is probably going to get screwed. [New York Times]

* And lest we forget, thanks to our society’s near slavish obsession with social media and knowledge on demand, we’ll salivate uncontrollably as we wait for those opinions while the justices blissfully ignore new technology. [New York Times]

* The Justice Department charged NSA leaker Edward Snowden with espionage, and now he’s pursuing political asylum in Ecuador with the assistance of legal counsel representing WikiLeaks. [NBC News]

* Biglaw firms are trying to strengthen their pricing power in a post-recession world, with average rate increases of 4.8% in 2012, and hourly rates soaring in New York City. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* There were some bright spots in the otherwise dismal NALP job numbers for the class of 2012. Biglaw hiring is up, and so are median starting salaries. Sallie Mae is pleased as punch. [National Law Journal]

* If you’re considering law school, ask yourself these questions before applying. You should also ask yourself if you’re cool with unemployment. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Richard Trenk, author of the “ham-fisted” cease-and-desist letter that’s been read around the world, has been honored as the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s “Knucklehead of the Week.” Congrats! [Star-Ledger]

* There’s no solace for people who have had to pay to have their mug shot “depublished” from the internet. Sorry, the First Amendment allows people to turn a profit off your misery. [Washington Post]

* This lawsuit over unpaid internships filed against Gawker will sting any gossip girl’s heart to the core. But really, isn’t the privilege of working for Gawker enough? This fangirl thinks so. [New York Post]

I don’t really feel the need to slap a “hero” or “villain” label onto Edward Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who blew the lid off of the secret government email spying program now known as Prism. I mean, if I have to choose, I go “hero” because I basically don’t trust any program the government won’t even explain to its own people. And I certainly don’t trust anything that’s every come out of a FISA court, because how can I?

But I don’t know that this was the right or only way to bring this important information to light. I believe, I kind of need to believe, that the public’s ability to know and stop potentially massive government overreach rests on more than the good conscious of high school dropouts living in Hawaii. Perhaps so-called “small government” types will join together with progressives in saying that non-public courts issuing secret warrants is probably a bad thing.

With that in mind, I would love to see Snowden evade prosecution. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t able to forge alliance between Ron Paul supporters like himself and progressives who wish that politicians were as afraid of Fourth Amendment as the Second.

But how can he stay free? The Justice Department is loading up charges and Hong Kong just wants what’s good for business. Snowden is already on the move, where should he go? Come on people who went to law school for “international law” get your head out of complex cross border transactions and help this brother out…

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