Lawsuit Against NSA Rejected By Court

Lawsuit Against NSA Rejected By Court

( – Rumors have been floating around for years about the National Security Agency (NSA) illegally spying on United States citizens. According to the agency itself, that doesn’t happen. But, there is a loophole in the law that bans such surveillance.

The agency can intercept and monitor communications between individuals in the US and other countries. Wikimedia, Wikipedia’s parent company, decided it had enough and filed a lawsuit against the NSA, which has been working its way through the courts for years.

On Wednesday, September 15, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Judicial District upheld a lower court’s dismissal of Wikimedia’s lawsuit. By a split decision, the court ruled further litigation in the courts would expose classified, sensitive information regarding the federal government’s monitoring activities.

The court reached their decision, in part, by applying a long-standing legal theory called “state secrets privilege.” Wikimedia’s lawyers had argued the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) took precedence over state secrets privilege. However, the court didn’t accept that argument.

Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, a Clinton appointee, filed a brief dissenting opinion. According to her, the court erred in upholding the dismissal after only nominal judicial review by the lower court. She also accused government lawyers of basing their invocation of privilege on “far-fetched hypotheticals.”

Origins of the Case

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the original petition in the United States District Court of Maryland in March 2015. The original plaintiffs in the case included Wikimedia, Amnesty International USA, and a few other similar organizations. Their complaint dealt with the NSA’s upstream monitoring of their overseas communications. They claimed it limited their ability to guarantee their communications with individuals and other organizations overseas would remain confidential.

The NSA coordinated efforts with large communications companies like AT&T to conduct upstream surveillance. When individuals in the US communicate overseas, the agency intercepts and copies the data while it’s in transit to its destination. Then, the NSA uses computer robots to analyze the data to search for keywords and phrases that could indicate the communication involves a known target.

According to the plaintiffs, the selection of the targets is overly broad and includes journalists, aid workers, multinational corporations, researchers, and others not suspected of any alleged wrongdoing. Additionally, the courts don’t have a say in who or what gets listed as a target.

Wikimedia’s lawyers say they are reviewing the court’s opinion and will decide on their next steps at a later date. In the meantime, one has to wonder if it’s wise to let the government off the hook with a simple declaration of state secrets privilege.

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