Law firms looking to cut costs by outsourcing their legal support services overseas could be jeopardizing their client confidentiality, according to a recent federal suit filed by a Bethesda, Md. firm.
Joseph Hennessey, name partner at Newman McIntosh & Hennessey, turned to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 7 seeking a ruling on the outsourcing of privileged client data that may be subject to eavesdropping by the U.S. government.
Hennessey, who in 2005 wrote this column for Legal Times on the Fourth Amendment and privacy rights, says foreign companies have no presumption of privacy because the National Security Agency is free to spy on them without constitutional constraints.
"We are really heading toward a collision between globalized economic interests and the limited extension of constitutional rights," Hennessey says.
The lawsuit names President George W. Bush as a co-defendant along with Acumen Legal Services of India and its U.S. subsidiary, Acumen Solutions of Houston, Texas.
The firm is looking to the court to rule on whether outsourcing of legal services compromises constitutional rights and whether consent should be required before such data is sent abroad. It also wants the court to order law firms to disclose their use of foreign legal support and to order that the government establish protocols to shield attorney-client information from surveillance.
"It seeks this declaration knowing that foreign nationals who reside overseas lack Fourth Amendment protections," says the firm's complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. "It seeks this declaration having been informed ... that the United States government engages in pervasive surveillance of electronically transmitted data."
Hennessey, who also has filed requests for opinions with the D.C. Bar and the Maryland State Bar Association, says Acumen solicited his company via emails earlier this year.
"It's not paranoia. It's just fact," Hennessey says. "Now that we're outsourcing services, we have given no consideration to the ongoing practice of the government harvesting information out there."
He says he's also concerned that information from his firm, which especializes in personal injury and medical malpractice, could -- through discovery -- fall into the hands of competitors who employ outsourced services.
District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who also is chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, has been assigned to the case. A representative for Acumen’s corporate headquarters in India had no comment.