Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that a federal judge has ruled that the NSA's warrantless surveillance program was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep one of Bush's most disputed counterterrorism policies shrouded in secrecy. Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers who were representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been “subjected to unlawful surveillance,” the judge said that the government was liable to pay them damages. ““Judge Walker is saying that FISA and federal statutes like it are not optional,” says Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer represented Al Haramain. “The president, just like any other citizen of the United States, is bound by the law.” In 2008, Congress overhauled FISA to bring federal statutes into closer alignment with what the Bush administration had been secretly doing legalizing certain aspects of the warrantless surveillance program but the overhauled law still requires the government to obtain a warrant if it is focusing on an individual or entity inside the United States. The surveillance of Al Haramain would still be unlawful today if no court had approved it, current and former Justice Department officials say."