|Gen. Keith Alexander
image credit: Daniel Stuckey/Flickr
The American Civil Liberties Union argued in federal court on Friday that the bulk collection of U.S. phone records by the National Security Agency (NSA) violates Americans’ constitutional rights and the authority given under the Patriot Act.
The ACLU’s case is one of two cases currently moving forward in the court system challenging the legality of the NSA’s various surveillance programs.
At issue is the NSA collection of all U.S. phone records from Verizon, revealed in June based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer saying the type of surveillance is exactly what the Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent.
“The constitution does not permit the NSA to place hundreds of millions of innocent people under permanent surveillance because of the possibility that information about some tiny subset of them will become useful to an investigation in the future,” Jaffer said, according to the Guardian.
The ACLU’s case was filed in June just a short time after the collection of Verizon records was revealed by the Guardian.
The case names Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the National Security Agency Keith Alexander, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Government lawyers argue that the ACLU’s objections to the program are entirely speculative, according to ABC News.
They argue in court filings that the program operates in line with orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), though that court has been harshly criticized by civil liberties groups.
The FISC’s decisions are shrouded in a great deal of secrecy, with the Obama administration acting to block the release of an opinion that revealed at least one breach of the Fourth Amendment by the government.
The ACLU argues that they do have standing in the case because they may have had their conversations with clients compromised by the records collection program since they are clients of Verizon.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia focused on if the challengers had the legal right to be in court or if his court had the authority to make a ruling in the case.
Leon didn’t rule on the case but said that he’s sure the case is “going upstairs,” referring to the case being appealed to a higher court.
The Supreme Court, however, rejected a request to review a case brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
EPIC asked the Court to review if the FISC exceeded its authority in forcing Verizon to hand over all of the records for their US customers, but the Court refused and did not explain its reasoning.
The government argued that only the government itself or the recipient of an order, in this case Verizon, can seek review of an order. It remains to be seen if the government will make similar arguments in future cases challenging NSA programs.
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This article first appeared at End the Lie.