Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to NSA’s phone-records collection


(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)
November 18, 2013

The Supreme Court refused an unusual petition Monday from a privacy group that sought to stop the National Security Agency from collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center bypassed lower courts because it said only the Supreme Court could review a decision by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that “exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation.”

The lawsuit was considered a long shot — the Supreme Court rarely takes cases that have not gone through the lower courts — and the justices rejected it without comment.

The government had argued that only the government and the recipient of the FISC order had standing to appeal the ruling.

The government also said the proper starting place for the suit was in federal district court, although it said it would raise the same objections there.

After documents detailing the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs were leaked this year by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, a number of lawsuits were filed protesting the programs. Those are unaffected by the court’s decision.

Last term, in a case called Clapper v. Amnesty International, the court declined to consider the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as amended five years ago because it said those who brought a lawsuit against it could not prove that they had been subject to its provisions.

But last month, another avenue became possible. Federal prosecutors informed Colorado terrorism suspect Jamshid Muhtorov that they intend to use evidence against him gathered through the warrantless surveillance program; the case will probably lead to a new constitutional challenge.

The case the Supreme Court rejected Monday is In Re Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.
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