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Supreme Court Rejects Case Challenging NSA Phone Spying

Photo: Courtesy of Supreme Court

Court declines to hear suit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center seeking to stop the program

The Supreme Court today rejected a challenge to the National Security Agency’s once-secret telephone metadata spying program.

The justices, without comment, declined to entertain a challenge from the Electronic Privacy Information Center seeking to halt the program that was disclosed in June by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The court’s inaction means that the there isn’t likely to be any court resolution to constitutional challenges to the metadata program for years. Legislation, however, is pending to gut the program.

What’s more, several cases challenging the snooping are pending in federal courts across the country. EPIC’s petition was unusual in that it went directly to the Supreme Court without first being litigated in the lower courts.

The Washington, D.C. based non-profit privacy group went straight to the justices after Snowden’s leak because of the gravity of the phone spying, which includes telephone companies having to provide the NSA the phone numbers of both parties involved in all calls, the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number for mobile callers, calling card numbers used in the call, and the time and duration of the calls.

In its briefs, EPIC claimed that all calling records cannot be relevant to an investigation.

“The ongoing collection of the domestic telephone records of millions of Americans by the NSA, untethered to any particular investigation, is beyond the authority granted by Congress to the FISC …” according to EPIC’s petition.

The government has said that the spying program has been ongoing since at least 2006, and has repeatedly been authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. “As of October 1, 2013, fourteen different judges of the FISC, on thirty-four separate occasions, have approved Section 1861 orders directing telecommunications service providers to produce records in connection with the Telephony Records Program,” the government told the justices in its filing while urging the court to reject the case.

The government told a New York federal judge presiding over a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that the wholesale vacuuming up of all phone-call metadata in the United States is in the “public interest,” does not breach the constitutional rights of Americans and cannot be challenged in a court of law.

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