Legal Challenges Target NSA’s Relationship With Tech Firms
Posted on Jul 17, 2013
An odd coalition of advocacy groups threatens to upend the NSA’s relationship with telecommunications and Internet companies with lawsuits claiming that the mass spying the agency conducts on Americans’ phone records and online activity is unconstitutional.
One such challenge goes beyond the National Security Agency and targets the companies themselves.
“The NSA’s relationship with those companies is critical, since much of the telecommunications infrastructure of the United States is owned and operated by private firms,” The Guardian reports. “While the lawsuits face significant obstacles, they stand a chance of splitting the financial and legal interests of the telecoms firms and and Internet Service Providers from those of the NSA—something that could restrict the surveillance efforts more than any legislation Congress is likely to pass.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly
One filed on Tuesday in a California federal court united a coalition of 19 gun owners, human-rights groups, Muslim organizations, environmentalists and marijuana legalization advocates seeking a “preliminary and permanent injunction” against NSA surveillance. Their claims about the surveillance violating their speech and privacy rights echoed another suit filed last month in a New York federal court by the ACLU challenging the programs’ constitutionality.
Similarly, a suit first filed in California five years ago was resurrected last week after a judge ruled that revelations about bulk surveillance published by the Guardian and the Washington Post and confirmed by the government prevent the Justice Department from quashing the suit as a state secret. The Electronic Privacy Information Center petitioned the supreme court last week to “vacate an unlawful order” by the secretive Fisa court for mass phone records from Americans.
Those cases still face the considerable challenges of fighting and defeating what are sure to be vigorous Justice Department challenges to their viability. Thus far, the courts have most often ruled for the government in NSA surveillance suits. Unlike in the past, however, the NSA documents published by the Guardian and the Post revealed for the first time that telecoms and Internet Service Providers were directly providing NSA with bulk customer information, allowing those customers – including the ACLU, a Verizon customer – standing to sue.
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