Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Amnesty International Surveillance Case

by Teresa Anderson

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allow the federal government to conduct surveillance without a warrant if they believe that at least one party involved is a “suspected al Qaeda affiliate.”

The issue under consideration is whether the plaintiffs in the case—Amnesty International, various journalists, international aid groups, labor organizations, and attorneys—have standing to sue the government since they cannot prove that they have been harmed by the law. (The actual constitutionality of the law has been removed from consideration in the case.)

The plaintiffs argue that, as international aid organizations or groups that do significant work overseas, they are likely to be targets of the government’s warrantless surveillance program. As such, they argued, they have been forced to take “costly and burdensome measures to protect the confidentiality of certain communications.”

The government argued that the plaintiffs’ case should not be allowed to proceed because they cannot prove that the FISA amendments would cause them future injury.

A federal appeals court disagreed (Amnesty International v. Clapper, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, No. 09-4112-cv, 2011). In the written opinion of the case, the court noted: “The government overstates the standard for determining when a present injury linked to a contingent future injury can support standing. The plaintiffs have demonstrated that they suffered present injuries in fact—concrete economic and professional harms—that are fairly traceable to the [FISA amendments] and redressable by a favorable judgment. The plaintiffs need not show that they have been or certainly will be monitored.”

"Amnesty International USA is pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the organization and other plaintiffs have the right to challenge the 2008 FISA Amendments Act," said Vienna Colucci, Amnesty International USA's senior policy advisor in a statement on Monday. "Confidentiality is essential to our ability to effectively investigate human rights abuses and not put witnesses and survivors at further risk. The Court should strike this law down."

The U.S. Solicitor General appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court will likely hear the case in November.

photo by cascade_of_rant/flickr


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