We have previously discussed how many Democrats and liberals have stayed relatively silent as the Obama Administration has launched attacks on privacy, press freedoms, and civil liberties. In addition President Obama has engaged in military interventions, declared the right to kill citizens on his own authority, refused to investigate the U.S. torture program, and repeatedly violated the separation of powers. Now, we can add the violation of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality. Once again, the disclosure came as a result not of congressional oversight or Executive reforms, but the Snowden disclosures.
The document discussed by the New York Times shows that the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted attorney-client communications of an American law firm that was representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States.
The government of Indonesia had retained the lawyers in trade talks and the N.S.A.’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, notified the NSA that it was conducting surveillance of the talks. It expressly noted intercepts of attorney-clients communications with the law firm of Mayer Brown. The communication flagged that the “information covered by attorney-client privilege may be included” in the intelligence gathering, according to the New York Times.
Notably, the general counsel’s office at NSA was consulted. [For full disclosure, I worked as an intern with that office during the Reagan Administration] The NSA general counsel is the very same office that was consulted and approved past abuses during the Bush Administration.
As with privacy, separation of powers, and other protections, it is unlikely that there will be any serious repercussions for security officials or even a change in conduct. It becomes just another cost to place on a lengthening ledger of lost items under this President. It is a rather pathetic sight as such rights fall with little more than a whisper of regret in a triumph of personality over principle in the Obama Administration.
The law firm itself issued a mild comment that seemed more intent on defending the firm’s role and continued security for clients as opposed to objecting to the possible denial of confidentiality or the role of the NSA in such surveillance.
Source: NY Times