U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS petition seeks halt to NSA surveillance, cites secret court order revealed by Snowden

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is filing an emergency petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking for a halt to the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone records.

EPIC’s petition seeks to overturn a secret order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, revealed in a leak by Edward Snowden, that ordered a Verizon business subsidiary to give the government all its customer records on an “ongoing daily basis.” The New York Times, the Hill’s Blog Briefing Room and EPIC’s website have information on the petition (PDF) for a writ of mandamus to vacate the court order or, in the alternative, for a writ of certiorari to review the surveillance court judgment.

“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 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under federal law, the petition says.

EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg told the Times that the suit would be the first to challenge directly the surveillance court’s legal authority to allow collection of the phone records. The court has authorized the data collection under a Patriot Act provision that allows the government to obtain “tangible things” such as business records in terrorism probes as long as they are “relevant to an authorized investigation.”

EPIC says it is filing its petition directly with the Supreme Court because it can’t challenge the order with the surveillance court and because lower federal courts don’t have the authority to review surveillance court orders. EPIC claims the Verizon order affects all its customers, “including petitioner EPIC, a nonprofit organization that engages in protected attorney-client communications as it pursues litigation to safeguard privacy.”

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