US Supreme Court refuses to let Americans challenge eavesdropping law

The United States Supreme Court will not let Americans challenge a provision in a foreign intelligence law that lets the federal government secretly eavesdrop on the intimate communications of millions of Americans.

On Tuesday, the top justices in the US said the country’s highest court will not hear a case in which Amnesty International and a slew of co-plaintiffs have contested a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, that lets the National Security Agency silently monitor emails and phone calls.

 Under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), the NSA is allowed to conduct electronic surveillance on any US citizen as long as they are suspected of conversing with any person located outside of the United States. That provision was scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, but Congress voted to re-up the bill and it was put back on the books for another five years.

 Along with human rights workers and journalists, Amnesty International first challenged the FAA on the day it went into effect, arguing that the powers provided to the NSA under the FISA amendments likely puts the plaintiffs and perhaps millions of other Americans at risk of surveillance. Now years later, though, they are finally being told that they cannot challenge the law that, while meant to collect foreign intelligence, puts every person in the country at risk of being watched.

 “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,” the American Civil Liberties Union wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs in a legal brief filed last year with the court.

 Amnesty, et al have been pursuing an injunction against the NSA in their lawsuit, which names former NSA-Chief James Clapper is a co-defendant. Because the plaintiffs cannot prove that they’ve actually been targeted under the FAA, however, the case is been stalled endlessly.

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