What Will Courts Decide About NSA Spying?

Source: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

The National Security Agency (NSA) is heading to court to defend its Internet data collection program. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is arguing that the NSA’s information collection violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

“The eyes and ears of the government now sit on the Internet,” according to the motion submitted by the EFF’s attorneys. “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 Jewel v. NSA motion was first filed in 2008 when a former AT&T employee revealed that the NSA was routing copied Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco, but has only been bolstered by information from the Edward Snowden leaks.

The EFF’s motion argues that the NSA’s Internet data collection program, which collects Internet data from the major cables and switches that connect computer networks, also known as “upstream” collection, violates the Fourth Amendment in two separate ways: by unconstitutionally seizing plaintiffs’ Internet communications and by unconstitutionally searching the content of the communications stream that’s been seized.

This is the first time the NSA has been challenged in a public court over upstream collection After the NSA’s collection tactics were revealed by Snowden, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent government review board which said the phone records program was illegal, did not find the same fault in the Internet data collection program. According to the NSA, its upstream collection is legal under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which covers electronic surveillance of “non-US persons located outside the United States.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 62% of respondents think it’s unacceptable for the government to monitor the communications of American citizens.

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