A federal judge today rejected the U.S. government’s latest attempt to dismiss the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF’s) long-running challenge to the government’s illegal dragnet surveillance programs. Today’s ruling means the allegations at the heart of the Jewel case move forward under the supervision of a public federal court.
“The court rightly found that the traditional legal system can determine the legality of the mass, dragnet surveillance of innocent Americans and rejected the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege to have the case dismissed,” said Cindy Cohn, EFF’s Legal Director. “Over the last month, we came face-to-face with new details of mass, untargeted collection of phone and Internet records, substantially confirmed by the Director of National Intelligence. Today’s decision sets the stage for finally getting a ruling that can stop the dragnet surveillance and restore Americans’ constitutional rights.”
In the ruling, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California federal court agreed with EFF that the very subject matter of the lawsuit is not a state secret, and any properly classified details can be litigated under the procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). As Judge White wrote in the decision, “Congress intended for FISA to displace the common law rules such as the state secrets privilege with regard to matter within FISA’s purview.” While the court allowed the constitutional questions to go forward, it also dismissed some of the statutory claims. A status conference is set for August 23.
EFF’s Jewel case is joined in the litigation with another case, Shubert v. Obama.
“We are pleased that the court found that FISA overrides the state secrets privilege and look forward to addressing the substance of the illegal mass surveillance,” said counsel for Shubert, Ilann Maazel of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. “The American people deserve their day in court.”
Filed in 2008, Jewel v. NSA is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it. Evidence in the case includes undisputed documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA. The case is supported by declarations from three NSA whistleblowers along with a mountain of other evidence. The recent blockbuster revelations about the extent of the NSA spying on telecommunications and Internet activities also bolster EFF’s case.
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