Can US group challenge overseas surveillance act? Supreme Court to decide.
The US Supreme Court agreed to examine whether a group of US-based lawyers, activists, and journalists can challenge a Bush-era law authorizing broad surveillance overseas.
The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine whether a group of lawyers, human rights activists, and journalists have legal standing to pursue a constitutional challenge to a federal law authorizing broad electronic surveillance overseas.Skip to next paragraph
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Members of the group are based in the US and thus cannot be directly targeted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But the plaintiffs say their work requires them to stay in telephone and e-mail contact with individuals in other countries who are likely to be targeted for surveillance by US intelligence agencies, including suspected terrorists.
The case stems from a secret Bush administration program that conducted blanket surveillance of international telephone calls and e-mails as part of the administration’s post-9/11 war on terror. The program bypassed the long-established requirement of court-authorized warrants and was denounced by critics as illegal and unconstitutional.
After the program was revealed, Congress amended FISA in 2008 to allow US intelligence to conduct similar electronic surveillance provided the targets were foreigners thought to be outside US territory.
It is the 2008 amendment to FISA that triggered the lawsuit by the lawyers, human rights activist, and journalists. The case is being litigated by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The plaintiffs say dragnet surveillance overseas by the US government is vacuuming up their US-based communications in violation of their free speech and privacy rights.
A federal judge threw the lawsuit out in 2009, ruling that the complaint was based on an “abstract fear” that the plaintiffs’ communications might be monitored rather than evidence that they actually were improperly monitored. Lacking such evidence the plaintiffs do not have the requisite legal standing to file their lawsuit, the judge said.
The Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reversed that decision and reinstated the lawsuit in March 2011. The appeals court said that the plaintiffs’ fear of government monitoring was not “fanciful, paranoid, or otherwise unreasonable,” given the capabilities of US intelligence.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli urged the high court to take up the case and reverse the Second Circuit decision.