I-Team: US Government spying on Americans' internet, phone activity

May 30, 2013 (CHICAGO)

And they may be listening to you.

You don't have to be a terror suspect for the government to spy on you under a contentious provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

What began as a law to monitor threats overseas now allows U.S. security officials to eavesdrop on Americans who communicate with foreigners. Whether that's necessary for our safety or trampling our constitution depends on who you ask.

"You want to go find the real terrorists, go kill 'em all. I could care less," said Ahmad Tounisi, father of terror suspect Abdella Ahmad Tounisi.

You don't even have to ask the father of teenage terror suspect Abdella Ahmad Tounisi of suburban Aurora.

Without prompting, he launches into a tirade against the government's use of foreign intelligence surveillance tactics to police American citizens.

"Our civil liberties have been broken. I'm so ashamed of our government to do this to its own people," said Ahmad Tounisi.

His 18-year old son wanted to blow up a Naperville nightclub according to the FBI. He was arrested at O'Hare Airport in April, boarding a flight for Syria where authorities say he planned to train with al-Qaeda fighters. According to the FBI affidavit, the American citizen's cell phone conversations, text messages and internet usage were monitored. Federal agents say he frequently linked to radical Islam websites, including those that feature jihadist suicide attacks.

"If we want to try to prevent terrorism, you've got to know what the terrorists are talking about, who they might be connected with, where their source of money might be coming from," said Jody Weis, an ABC7 consultant and former FBI official.

Tounisi was discovered during an investigation of his friend, 19-year old Adel Daoud from Hillside.

Daoud was arrested last year in the middle of a plot to blow up a downtown bar, according to the FBI.

How the feds got onto Daoud in the first place, even his attorneys didn't know- until last December when U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein referred to the Daoud case during floor debate on renewal of the foreign surveillance act.

"She identified 8 different cases, specifically saying case number 4 was a plot to bomb a downtown Chicago bar, which is our case," said Thomas Durkin, Daoud's attorney.

Durkin has filed a court motion asking the Government to reveal whether they indeed collected electronic evidence against Doaud under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"You could have a child in your house go online and go to the wrong website or chat room, or at least wrong by the government's standards, and all of a sudden that would permit further use of surveilling that electronic communication and any further communications," said Durkin.

Daoud may have once looked at this online al-Qaeda magazine and was then targeted by federal authorities who his lawyer suggests later entrapped him in an undercover sting.

U.S. prosecutors declined to discuss the case or the application process to do surveillance of Americans. We do know there are special court panels that issue secret warrants- Chicago's is supervised by District Judge James Zagel. But the proceedings are not public.

"It's one of those things I think is a necessary tradeoff. But there's got to be oversight. We certainly wouldn't want to have this authority without someone checking to make sure that it's not being abused. I know when I was in the FBI there was a great deal of oversight in the matters," said Weis.

"It's a dragnet is what it is...This would be like using a vacuum cleaner instead of a scalpel to get the information," said Durkin.

The U.S. Supreme Court already passed on a case challenging the law, but now that Congress has extended it for another five years there are appeals on the horizon. Among them, the Chicago case of Adel Daoud.

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.