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'The Good Wife': Good Law? - Season 5, Episode 2

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Worried about the government listening in on your every word or thought? This week's episode of "The Good Wife" is like a 45-minute ad for tin foil hats, although Lockhart & Gardner does its darnedest to fight the cartoonish boogeyman of NSA surveillance.

Here's a rundown of this season's second offering, "The Bit Bucket."

Episode Recap (Spoiler Alert!):

This episode has a nice plot device: two government employees listening in on calls to and from all the main characters at some sort of secret National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance center -- which really resembles a big telemarketing call center. Alicia and the usual gang are back in court representing Chumhum, a goofy-sounding fictional social media giant, in a suit against the NSA and its gag order over surveillance. Elsewhere, Eli is looking for a stolen gavel and Diane purses her lips and gives pained smirks.

The Good Wife: Good Law?

Season 5, Episode 2
"The Bit Bucket"

Legal References:

More Legal Analysis of CBS' "The Good Wife":

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In the past year, there have been many public outcries from those tech companies involved in the PRISM project, a secret program which funneled immense amounts of data on Americans' Internet use through private companies and into the hands of the NSA.

Google -- a good real-life substitute for Chumhum -- actually did challenge the NSA's gag order that prevented it from releasing information about government requests for data, citing First Amendment violations. And, like with Chumhum's case, the result was more about publicity than anything legal.

Jeffrey Tambor returns as the wisecracking judge -- maybe for the whole season? -- to listen again to Alicia and her pals throw just about any argument they can at the case until something sticks.

This is the dramatic part of any TV legal drama which makes a complex case seem like it's moving extremely quickly. In real life, a judge wouldn't stand for plaintiff's counsel randomly shouting new claims for damages in open court. Just about every issue, including the request for a "SCIF," needs to be briefed and filed with the court before anything happens.

This episode was chock full of legal issues, and here are a few:

  • First Amendment. Companies like Chumhum have First Amendment rights, but unfortunately, in gag orders that protect national security secrets, the interests of the government are strong enough to keep these orders nice and legal.
  • NSA eavesdropping. The goofballs at the NSA call center got increasingly greater range to listen in on Alicia and her family. Courts have repeatedly confirmed these programs are legal.

It was also a nice touch to have Chumhum scream "free speech" at a Holocaust survivor, as Facebook has done when confronted about hate speech.

Prior restraint: A cooler way of saying a restriction on speech before any speech has taken place, most notably in the media.

The Verdict:

Pretty topical, and aside from all the "SCIF" silliness, a pretty good summary of the legal and publicity battles between the government and big tech companies. This isn't the last we've seen of the loveable NSA employees, as a crying Somali girl was just the tenuous link they needed to pry into Alicia's family life.

What did you think of this week's episode of "The Good Wife"? Is the show guilty of making any legal mistakes? Check back here for more legal recaps of "The Good Wife," and send us a tweet at @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #TheGoodWife.

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