High Court, 5-4, Blocks Challenges to Electronic Intel Surveillance


A divided Supreme Court made it practically impossible to challenge the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, NPR reports. FISA authorizes large-scale electronic surveillance of phone calls and emails to and from targets abroad and people in the United States. By a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the court said human-rights advocates, journalists, and lawyers for detainees could not show with near certainty that they had been or will be harmed and thus could not challenge the law in court. FISA was amended in 2008 to do away with the requirement that the government get a warrant from a special intelligence court when conducting electronic surveillance of individuals abroad. Instead, the government can monitor large groups of people with a single request, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was established to provide strict oversight of surveillance requests, has very limited powers of supervision. “It’s a Catch-22,” says Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitution Accountability Center. “It’s a secret program that is hard to get information about, and yet the court is seeming to require plaintiffs to get that absolute certainty before they can challenge the constitutionality of the surveillance.”

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