A US judge has allowed four persons who visited whistleblower and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange while he was residing in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to continue their legal battle against the CIA, which was launched in the summer of 2022.
The four – journalists John Goetz and Charles Glass, as well as attorneys Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek – allege that the agency spied on them during the visits.
District Court Judge John Koeltl made this decision in response to the CIA asking the Manhattan court to dismiss the case.
We obtained a copy of the decision for you here.
The filing accuses the spies of gaining access to data copied from their phones without their knowledge, and Judge Koeltl agreed that, if this occurred, it was an act of unconstitutional privacy violation, therefore representing sufficient grounds for the lawsuit to proceed.
Spain’s El Pais originally reported that a contractor harvested information using hidden microphones and accessing the phones, and then turned it over to the CIA.
The judge specified that Assange’s visitors had “reasonable expectation of privacy” regarding the data on their phones and that this is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment (which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures).
The ruling allowed the part of the lawsuit that would, if the final verdict goes in favor of the plaintiffs, force the CIA to destroy whatever information they unlawfully obtained from the devices. At least in theory.
But, the judge dismissed the money damages request from the filing, which named then CIA Director Mike Pompeo as the one who should pay it. And, Koeltl found that the CIA listening in on the plaintiffs’ conversations and getting their hands on the copies of their passports did not violate any rights, contrary to the original lawsuit’s claims.
While representatives of the court were not in the mood to make any further comments, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Richard Roth, stated for the press that he and his clients were “thrilled” that the court did not go along with what he said is the CIA trying to silence them.
Roth added that they “merely seek to expose the CIA’s attempt to carry out Pompeo’s vendetta against WikiLeaks.”
According to Politico, the tactic the government could turn to now is the state-secrets privilege doctrine.
This would be a workaround of sorts used in order to “shut down civil suits that implicate classified information.”
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