NYT:Privacy Group to Ask Supreme Court to Stop N.S.A.’s Phone Spying Program
WASHINGTON — A privacy rights group plans to file an emergency petition with the Supreme Court on Monday asking it to stop the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans.
The group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says it is taking the extraordinary legal step of going directly to the Supreme Court because the sweeping collection of the phone records of American citizens has created “exceptional circumstances” that only the nation’s highest court can address.
The group, based in Washington, also said it was taking its case to the Supreme Court because it could not challenge the legality of the N.S.A. program at the secret court that approved it, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, and because lower federal courts did not have the authority to review the secret court’s orders.
Those lawsuits were against the telecommunications companies that cooperated with the N.S.A. program, but Congress later gave the companies retroactive legal immunity when it overhauled the nation’s national security wiretapping law in 2008. Those lawsuits also suffered in federal courts because it was difficult for the plaintiffs to prove that they had actually been spied upon by the N.S.A., since the domestic spying operations were secret and the courts refused to force the government to release any documents to reveal the targets of the surveillance.
But the new lawsuits benefit from the publication of the secret court order concerning Verizon, providing evidence that the records of Verizon customers have been collected. The American Civil Liberties Union, in its lawsuit, argues that it has legal standing to bring its case because the group is a Verizon customer.
2008 - Congress follows up the Protect America Act with another law, the FISA Amendments Act, extending the government’s expanded spying powers for another four years. The law now approaches the kind of warrantless wiretapping that occurred earlier in Bush administration. Senator Obama votes for the act.
The act also gives immunity to telecom companies for their participation in warrantless wiretapping.
2009 - President Obama signs a temporary one-year extension of elements of the Patriot Act that were set to expire — including Section 215, which grants the government broad powers to seize records
2011 - The House and Senate pass legislation to extend the overall Patriot Act. President Obama, who is in Europe as the law is set to expire, directs the bill to be signed with an “autopen” machine in his stead. It’s the first time in history a U.S. president has done so.
2012 - Congress extends the FISA Amendments Act another five years, and Obama signs it into law. Sens. Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats, offer amendments requiring more disclosure about the law’s impact. The proposals fail.