The US government insists that Americans don’t have the right to challenge a law that lets the National Security Agency eavesdrop on the intimate communications of anyone in the country, but all of that could now change as early as next week.
The Supreme Court will officially start their second session of the year on Monday, and first on the agenda is a matter that could eventually shatter the government’s ability to order wiretaps on the emails and phones of any US citizen without ever obtaining a warrant.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was put into place in the 1970s to install safeguards to keep Americans safe from unlawful eavesdropping. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, though, the George W. Bush administration ordered amendments to the law that have ever since allowed the NSA to monitor the communications of any US citizen as long as the government suspects that they are corresponding with anyone outside of the country.
Last month, the US House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the 2008 FISA Amendment Act (FAA), but not without attracting criticism from some very concerned parties. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a legal brief warning, “Under the FAA, the government can target anyone — human rights researchers, academics, attorneys, political activists, journalists — simply because they are foreigners outside the United States, and in the course of its surveillance it can collect Americans’ communications with those individuals.”
Beside from the obvious opposition to the warrantless wiretapping of any American with no explanation, there’s another problem that has put the FAA in the spotlight. The Justice Department has insisted that Americans can’t challenge the eavesdropping provisions because no civilians can say with absolute certainty that they have been targeted by secret surveillance.
The reason Americans can’t prove they’ve been monitored, of course, is because the government won’t give them yes or no answer anytime they’ve been asked. . . .
“The overwhelming power of the state secrets privilege makes it nearly impossible for any US citizen to show that he or she was the subject of surveillance, while the inability to prove he or she has been spied on prevents any citizen from having standing to challenge the program,” Frank Matt explains the case this week for the Arab American Institute. . . .
On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding Clapper v. Amnesty International, a case being fought to show that opponents of the FAA have a right to bring their suit up in Washington. Those that call the warrantless wiretapping illegal will have a hard case to fight, though, given that they can’t prove they’ve been watched.