(CN) – Opponents of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program asked a federal judge to declare the agency’s use of fiber-optic splitters to indiscriminately search users’ internet activity unconstitutional.
“The eyes and ears of the government now sit on the Internet. The government indiscriminately copies and searches communications passing through the Internet’s key domestic junctions, on what is called the Internet ‘backbone.’ By doing so, the government is operating a digital dragnet – a technological surveillance system that makes it impossible for ordinary Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing to engage in a fully private online conversation, to privately read online, or to privately access any online service,” the EFF’s brief begins.
Carolyn Jewel and Virginia Shubert, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), are the lead plaintiffs behind the federal complaints filed six years ago in San Francisco against the National Security Agency.
Both women are AT&T customers who claim that the agency uses the Terrorist Surveillance Program, enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to eavesdrop on millions of Americans in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
“We believe there is enough on the record now for the judge to rule that both the initial mass seizure and the subsequent searching of the content of Internet communications are unconstitutional,” EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a press release. “By installing fiber-optic splitters on the Internet backbone, and then searching through tens of millions of Internet communications it collects, the NSA is conducting suspicionless and indiscriminate mass surveillance that is like the abusive ‘general warrants’ that led the nation’s founders to enact the Fourth Amendment.”
According to the brief, splitters installed on the internet “backbone” of fiber-optic cables automatically provide the government with a copy of all users’ online activities – all website traffic, chats, shared photos, and social media interactions.
It then allegedly searches most of these communications, not only for terrorist threats, but anything that may be related to “foreign intelligence information.”
“While the government does obtain a periodic order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approving its general ‘targeting’ and ‘minimization’ procedures, those orders are simply not warrants. The FISC does not specify or limit the persons whose communications the government may seize or search, the communications facilities or accounts from which the government may seize communications, or what information the government may search for within the seized communications,” the EFF said in the 31-page brief.
Plaintiffs claim that such “dragnet” searches violate the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that the government show “individualized suspicion, probable cause, and a particularized description of the communications to be seized or searched.”
Cohn said, “The Constitution was written to ensure that Americans felt secure in their papers, digital or otherwise, and we’re asking the judge to rule that the NSA’s mass seizures and searches are illegal.”
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for October 31.
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