Here’s the ACLU’s Lawsuit on NSA Surveillance

The big problem facing legal challenges to the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers has always been standing—the legal requirement that, before you can sue, you must prove you’ve been harmed. The trouble with proving that you’ve been illegally spied on is that who gets spied on is generally secret. In Amnesty International v. Clapper, the Supreme Court court ruled that a collection of journalists and advocates lacked standing to sue the NSA for warrantless wiretapping because they couldn’t prove that they had, in fact, been spied on. In Al-Haramain v. Obama, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an Islamic charity that had been wiretapped couldn’t challenge the surveillance in court because the documents it had been inadvertently provided that did prove wiretapping were state secrets and thus inadmissible. (The case was remanded back to the lower court, Al-Haramain tried again, and was finally defeated by the Ninth Circuit in 2012.)

But now, thanks to the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the ACLU thinks it has an in. The leaked documents specifically implicate Verizon Business Network Services, Inc. as providing metadata from phone calls to government databases. The ACLU is a client of Verizon Business Network Services—and the government has already declassified the existence of its program to gather phone data, so it will have trouble claiming that the program is a state secret. On Tuesday, the ACLU filed suit in federal court to “obtain a declaration that Mass Call Tracking is unlawful” and “to enjoin the government from continuing the Mass Call Tracking under the VBNS order.”

Here’s the suit:

 

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.