Firm denies NSA snooped on client data

Feb. 17, 2014 at 4:48 PM
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CHICAGO, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- A Chicago-based law firm said there is "no indication" it was the subject of spying by the National Security Administration while advising a foreign client.

The firm, Mayer Brown, said in a statement Sunday night media reports suggesting it was the subject of a domestic snooping program by the NSA while advising the Indonesian government on international trade negotiations are untrue, the Chicago Tribune said Monday.

"There is no indication, either in the media reports or from our internal systems and controls, that the alleged surveillance occurred at the firm," Mayer Brown said in a statement.

Responding to the report Monday during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who is on a visit to Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa offered a rebuke of the Australian government for allegedly spying on private conversations that bore no relevance to national security.

"I find it a bit mind-boggling, a little bit difficult, how I can connect or reconcile discussions about shrimps and how it impact on Australia security," Natalegawa said.

Kerry, for his part, reiterated the U.S. policy that eavesdropping is limited to matters of national security and not economic benefit for the U.S. government or private corporations.

Documents released by the New York Times over the weekend collected by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden suggested the NSA, working with its Australian counterpart the Australian Signals Directorate, intercepted communications between an unnamed law firm and the Indonesian government.

U.S. Senate lobbying disclosure forms indicate Mayer Brown had registered to lobby on behalf of an Indonesian tobacco company there in February 2013, the time of the alleged snooping. It was also known they were advising the Indonesian government on the international trade talks.

The Snowden documents indicate Australia notified its American counterparts that some of the information collected may have violated attorney-client privilege. If true, it would be among the strongest allegations yet of NSA overreach in its domestic wiretapping and electronic surveillance programs.

The NSA is permitted by law to listen in on conversations between Americans and foreigners but not between American citizens.

The firm stood by its denial, saying there has not been "any suggestion that Mayer Brown was in any way the subject of the alleged scrutiny. Mayer Brown takes data protection and privacy very seriously, and we invest significant resources to keep client information secure."

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