Privacy Group Asks SCOTUS to Stop NSA Phone Surveillance

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) filed an emergency petition yesterday with the Supreme Court to stop the National Security Agency from collecting phone records from American citizens.  The petition asks the court to vacate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ruling that “ordered Verizon to disclose records to the National Security Agency for all telephone communications ‘wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.’ “

The phone records in question contain communications metadata, such as “the phone numbers of conversation participants, length of calls, time of conversations, location data, telephone calling card numbers, and unique phone identifiers.”

EPIC is petitioning the Supreme Court because they cannot appeal to the FISC, only the Supreme Court has the power to vacate a FISC order.  EPIC explained, “The plain terms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the rules of the FISC bar EPIC from seeking relief before the FISC or Court of Review. The FISC may only review business record orders upon petition from the recipient or the Government.”

Of particular concern was the courts re-definition of the term “relevant” to permit digital surveillance on people not under criminal suspicion. According to the WSJ sources, “the court accepted that ‘relevant’ could be broadened to permit an entire database of records on millions of people, in contrast to a more conservative interpretation widely applied in criminal cases, in which only some of those records would likely be allowed.”

EPIC argued to the Court, 

[i]t is simply not possible that every phone record in the possession of a telecommunications firm could be relevant to an authorized investigation. The statute requires that production orders be supported by ‘reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation,’ It is simply unreasonable to conclude that all telephone records for all Verizon customers in the United States could be relevant to an investigation.

The group points out that they are a Verizon customer.  The group’s telephone data can be “directly linked to each user’s identity and reveal their contacts, clients, associates, and even the physical location.”  EPIC attorneys conduct privileged and confidential communication government officials, journalists and Congressmen.  “EPIC is in active litigation against the very agencies tracking EPIC’s privileged attorney-client communications,” the group wrote.