(CN) – The Supreme Court said Monday that it will determine whether a trial can be held over the government’s alleged surveillance of Americans’ international phone calls and emails.
Initially a Manhattan federal judge sidedwith the government on summary judgment in the case brought by a coalition of attorneys, journalists, and labor, legal, media, and human rights organizations.
But the 2nd Circuit revived the case in March 2011, concluding that the critics did indeed have standing to fight Section 702 of the Foreign 3 Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
President George W. Bush signed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, legalizing the warrantless surveillance program he approved in 2001 and giving the government virtually unchecked authority to listen to the international phone calls and emails of U.S. citizens.
In 2009, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled that the plaintiffs, led by Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, could not prove that the government actually spied on them, and that their fear of injury under FSIA was merely speculative.
But the federal appeals court rejected this claim, as well as the argument that the organizations would only be tangentially related to the “persons of interest” who could be the target of any possible surveillance.
The 63-page decision said government surveillance poses a threat that is great enough to have caused immediate harm. The groups have gone to great lengths to avoid the chance that wiretaps could compromise their communications with clients and sources, according to the panel.
It is an admitted fact that the government claims to have the authority to monitor people who are in regular and sometimes privileged contact with the groups, according to the ruling.
One provision of the act says that the government does not have to identify the target of wiretapping when seeking authorization to begin surveillance from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This makes it impossible for targets to know if their communications are being monitored.
Once the FISA Court authorizes such action, it does not review the cases for one year. During this time, the executive branch – the very branch of the government performing the surveillance – is supposed is in charge of monitoring its own compliance.