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US faces court case on spying at home

DETROIT -- The government's warrantless domestic spying effort faced its first courtroom test yesterday as the Bush administration argued that the program is well within the president's authority, but that proving it would require revelations of state secrets.

US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor heard arguments in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the National Security Agency. The ACLU wants the program halted immediately; it has argued that the effort violates the rights to free speech and privacy. The judge gave no indication of when she might rule.

The ACLU said the state secrets argument is irrelevant because the Bush administration has revealed enough information about the program.

But a government lawyer, Anthony J. Coppolino, told the judge that the case cannot be decided based on ``scant public record."

``This case does not involve easy questions," Coppolino said. ``It's a case that requires a robust factual record."

Coppolino alluded to a classified filing, which Taylor indicated that she had not yet reviewed. In that brief, he said, the government has demonstrated that the program ``is narrowly and specifically focused on Al Qaeda."

The plaintiffs do not have access to the brief and even the judge would have to make a special request and travel to Washington to read it, said Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director and lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Yesterday's hearing marked the first time the constitutionality of the eavesdropping had been argued in court. A similar lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York by the Center for Constitutional Rights, but no hearings have been held there yet.

The administration has acknowledged eavesdropping on Americans' international communications without seeking court approval. President Bush has said the eavesdropping is legal because of a congressional resolution passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that authorized him to use force against terrorism.

The parties in the ACLU lawsuit, who include journalists, scholars, and lawyers, say the program has hampered their ability to do their jobs because it has made international contacts wary of sharing data over the telephone.

``We're not arguing that the administration -- the executive office -- doesn't have the power to protect us by spying," said Detroit attorney Noel Saleh, a plaintiff and president of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn, Mich. ``What we're arguing is that they don't have the power to protect us by violating the Constitution."

Coppolino said that the plaintiffs' beliefs that they are among the likely targets are insufficient to establish that they have been directly affected by the program.

``You don't get standing by saying the president has a program, and I'm concerned it might cover me," he told the judge.

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