SCOTUS rejects challenge to surveillance law

Civil liberties advocates condemn the Supreme Court's rejection of claims by activists, journalists, attorneys

Topics: Warrantless Wiretapping, SCOTUS, clapper, fisa amendments act, amnesty, Civil Liberties, Privacy, Supreme Court, ,

SCOTUS rejects challenge to surveillance law (Credit: Shutterstock/Nata-Lia)

The Supreme Court has rejected a legal challenge from civil liberties advocates and journalists over the government’s sprawling surveillance dragnet codified in 2008 legislation. The case, Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, challenged the 2008 federal law that authorized the government’s interception of international communications involving Americans.

The justices voted 5-4 that the plaintiffs, including journalist Chris Hedges and Amnesty International, lacked standing in the case — arguing, essentially, that concerns about a legal framework that might allow for future surveillance were insufficient evidence of harm caused by the law. “They cannot manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation of non-imminent harms,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority decision.

The plaintiffs had sought a First Amendment challenge against the FISA Amendments Act –  a law that retroactively legalized the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, which had “begun in secret and without congressional authorization under the Bush administration,” as HuffPo’s Matt Sledge noted.  The law permitted the National Security Agency and other agencies to read emails and listen in to calls without a warrant when they are targeting foreign nationals.

You Might Also Like

Civil liberties groups have been swift to condemn the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday. The Center for Constitutional Rights released a statement noting:

The Center for Constitutional Rights is disappointed in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision denying journalists, human rights organizations and attorneys the right to challenge an overreaching and possibly unconstitutional surveillance law that targets Americans without probably cause. The Court’s decision, while narrow, puts up unnecessary and technical hurdles to challenging the legality of this controversial program.

While the ACLU’s deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer, who had argued the case before the justices last October, commented, “It’s a disturbing decision. The FISA Amendments Act is a sweeping surveillance statute with far-reaching implications for Americans’ privacy. This ruling insulates the statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans’ privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches.”

Sledge’s comments on the decision perhaps best sum up the Kafka-esque trap the SCOTUS decision creates for privacy advocates:

The court’s ruling amounts to something of a catch-22 for the plaintiffs. The program is so secret that reporters and human rights advocates don’t know whether they’re being wiretapped. But because they don’t know whether they’re actually having their calls picked up, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court’s conservative majority, the plaintiffs’ argument that they have the standing to challenge the program was based on a “highly speculative fear.”

The Clapper case is not the only current legal challenge to the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, however. As CCR noted, “we will continue to challenge the surveillance of Americans in our case currently pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Center for Constitutional Rights v. Obama.” This case, originally filed against the Bush administration, is more of a retroactive effort, aiming to see the government destroy “any records of surveillance that it still retains from the illegal NSA program.”

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>