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Supreme Court: Citizens cannot challenge government surveillance laws

Friday, March 01, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Supreme Court, surveillance, government

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(NaturalNews) A "sharply divided" U.S. Supreme Court erected yet another barrier between the people and their government on Feb. 26 by ruling that ordinary citizens don't have standing to question government surveillance laws.

In a five to four ruling, a majority of justices threw out a bid by a group of lawyers, journalists and other organizations to challenge a 2008 expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, ostensibly because they could not prove the government would monitor their conversations in addition to those of potential intelligence targets and terrorist operatives.

In writing for the court's majority, Justice Samuel Alito said his colleagues "have been reluctant to endorse standing theories that require guesswork."

Your concerns are not founded, slave

The act first became law in 1978. It gives the government authority to monitor conversations of foreign spies, terrorist subjects and others abroad for the purpose of collecting intelligence.

In 2008, new FISA amendments "allow the government to obtain from a secret court broad, yearlong intercept orders, raising the prospect that phone calls and emails between those foreign targets and innocent Americans in this country would be swept under the umbrella of surveillance," The Associated Press reported.

However, without actual proof that the law would directly affect American citizens, Alito said in the court's ruling that citizens would not be able to sue.

Regardless of their documented concerns, along with the expense of activities some Americans have taken to make sure they aren't swept up in officially sanctioned government monitoring, they "have set forth no specific facts demonstrating that the communications of their foreign contacts will be targeted," Alito added.

He also said the expansion of FISA only authorized, but does not direct or mandate, the government surveillance. And because of that provision, "respondents' allegations are necessarily conjectural."

"Simply put, respondents can only speculate as to how the attorney general and the Director of National Intelligence will exercise their discretion in determining which communications to target," Alito wrote.

He was joined in his decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, the man who invented the constitutionality of Obamacare out of thin air, along with Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The minority gets one right

Writing in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said he would have permitted the lawsuit to move ahead because he thinks "the government has a strong motive to listen to conversations of the kind described."

"We need only assume that the government is doing its job (to find out about, and combat terrorism) in order to conclude that there is a high probability that the government will intercept at least some electronic communication to which at least some of the plaintiffs are party," Breyer said.

The majority of justices are incorrect when they describe the harm threatened plaintiffs as "speculative," Breyer added.

He was joined in his dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Originally, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit, saying plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. However, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the suit. The high court was not considering the constitutionality of the law's expansion, but rather whether lawyers could file a lawsuit to challenge it in federal court.

High court's solution: Wait until you've been violated

Jonathan Hafetz, a former ACLU attorney and an expert on national security and privacy issues who also teaches at Seton Hall University's law school, told AP, "The decision effectively insulates the government's increasingly broad surveillance powers from meaningful court review, threatening constitutional liberties in the name of secrecy and security."

The ACLU represented the plaintiffs before the Supreme Court.

In writing his opinion, Alito emphasized the court's role, saying the ruling did not prevent the expansion of FISA from judicial scrutiny or review, even going so far as to suggest a couple of ways in which a challenge to the law could be brought to court.

"It is possible that the monitoring of the target's conversations with his or her attorney would provide grounds for a claim of standing on the part of the attorney," Alito said. "Such an attorney would certainly have a stronger evidentiary basis for establishing standing than do respondents in the present case."

In late December, President Obama quietly reauthorized FISA, which was set to expire at the end of 2012. (http://www.naturalnews.com)

Sources:

http://hosted.ap.org

http://www.naturalnews.com

http://www.salon.com

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