The American Bar Association sent a letter to the National Security Agency on Feb. 20 expressing concerns over recent allegations of possible foreign government surveillance of American lawyers’ confidential communications with their overseas clients and the subsequent sharing of the privileged information with the NSA. The ABA also requested clarification on the agency’s current policies and practices designed to protect the attorney-client privileged information that it intercepts or receives and whether those directives were followed in connection with the alleged incident.
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 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.