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:

 

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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