A lawsuit against the National Security Agency’s dragnet interception of Internet communications had its first day in federal court Friday, with a diverse coalition of organizations asking a judge to rule against the Obama administration’s request that their case be dismissed.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis didn’t rule from the bench or betray a clear leaning during arguments.
The case was filed in March by the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Amnesty International USA, PEN American Center, Human Rights Watch, The Nation magazine and other human rights and advocacy groups.
The groups are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and say the NSA’s “upstream” collection of Internet communications from the cables, routers and switches that make up the Internet’s backbone is unconstitutional.
The upstream collection is – along with the PRISM program that collects communications directly from companies like Google and Facebook – a major source of Internet records the government says it’s authorized to acquire through Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Ellis, seeming to enjoy vacillating between sternness and folksy charm, told ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey, “This isn’t politics, you’re not on the stump!” He warned Justice Department attorney Rodney Patton that “when I start [talking] you need to stop.”
The hearing focused largely on distinguishing the case from Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, which was brought by some of the same plaintiffs. The Supreme Court ruled in February 2013 – about three months before whistleblower Edward Snowden’s first leaks – that those plaintiffs could not prove their records were taken and therefore had no right to sue.
Toomey said there are several significant differences between the cases, including that the contested surveillance is different and more expansive, that more is known now about the surveillance from official sources and that plaintiffs have greater footing with the addition of global Wikimedia and defense attorneys.
SOURCE: Steven Nelson
U.S. News & World Report