A judge refused Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the National Security Agency conducted a mass warrantless surveillance program during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby decided to let the case from a former mayor proceed, rejecting NSA's arguments that it should be dismissed because the allegations are implausible.
The lawsuit claims that the NSA collected the contents of text messages and emails as well as metadata about every phone call in in the area before and during the games. It was filed by lawyer Rocky Anderson, who was Salt Lake City mayor during the 2002 Olympics held a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
He has said he learned about the program from a 2013 media report and confirmed it with a source he has declined to identify. He filed the lawsuit to learn more about what he calls covert, illegal operations.
The NSA did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment Tuesday but has argued the lawsuit's claims are far-fetched speculation about a program that may never have existed. Government lawyers have also said the 2015 lawsuit was filed too long after the games happened.
The lawsuit claims then-President George W. Bush and then-Vice President Dick Cheney authorized the program, and they are also named as defendants in the case. They have not yet responded.
Anderson contends the spy agency likely still has data collected during that period, pointing to a massive NSA data storage center near Salt Lake City.
The six plaintiffs include lawmaker Howard Stephenson, a Republican member of Utah's state senate, who said he joined the lawsuit because of concerns about citizens' privacy.
Anderson served as a Democratic mayor of Utah's capital city from 2000 to 2008.
He led a protest of the Iraq War during Bush's 2007 visit to Salt Lake City.