An article in The New York Times alleges that the Australian Signals Directorate intercepted privileged communications between the government of Indonesia and an American law firm and then shared the information with the NSA. Citing that allegation, ABA President James R. Silkenat expressed concern that if confidential information was intercepted and shared with the NSA, it could be improperly utilized by the U.S. government or third parties.
“The attorney-client privilege is a bedrock legal principle of our free society and is important in both the civil and criminal contexts,” Silkenat wrote. “It enables both individual and organizational clients to communicate with their lawyers in confidence, which is essential to preserving all clients’ fundamental rights to effective counsel.”
The ABA further urged the NSA not to actively seek confidential communications between U.S. law firms and their clients. If confidential information is obtained by the NSA inadvertently or from a foreign intelligence service, Silkenat wrote that the NSA should respect attorney-client privilege and take all appropriate steps to ensure that any such information is not further disseminated to other agencies or third parties.
Silkenat’s letter to NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander and NSA General Counsel Rajesh De is available here.
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