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(CNN) -- A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the U.S. government's domestic eavesdropping program is unconstitutional and ordered it ended immediately.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Bush Administration disagrees with the ruling and has appealed.
"We also believe very strongly that the program is lawful," he said in Washington, adding that the program is "reviewed periodically" by lawyers to determine its effectiveness and ensure lawfulness. (Watch Gonzales defend the constitutionality of the domestic spying program -- 1:50)
The administration secretly instituted the program after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. It gives the National Security Administration authorization to secretly conduct wiretaps without a court order.
In a statement from the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow said, "The program is carefully administered and targets only international phone calls coming into or out of the United States where one of the parties on the call is a suspected al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist.
"The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out," the statement said.
In a 44-page memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor struck down the NSA program, which she said violates the rights to free speech and privacy. (Read the complete ruling -- PDF)
The defendants "are permanently enjoined from directly or indirectly utilizing the Terrorist Surveillance Program in any way, including, but not limited to, conducting warrantless wiretaps of telephone and Internet communications, in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Title III," she wrote.
She declared that the program "violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III."
Her ruling went on to say that "the president of the United States ... has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders."
The lawsuit, filed January 17 by civil rights organizations, lawyers, journalists and educators, "challenges the constitutionality of a secret government program to intercept vast quantities of the international telephone and Internet communications of innocent Americans without court approval."