Justices uphold government immunity over domestic eavesdropping program
October 9th, 2012
01:21 PM ET

Justices uphold government immunity over domestic eavesdropping program

By Bill Mears

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place a law that allows the Justice Department to stop suits against telecommunications companies for participating in wiretaps of potential terrorists.

The ruling was a key setback for civil libertarians challenging the broader powers of government since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States to use electronic surveillance to track potential threats in the name of national security.

The Justices declined to take up a challenge to the once-secret domestic eavesdropping program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - this one involving the monitoring of information moving into and out of the United States.

Previous petitions dealing with alleged abuses of the surveillance law also have been rejected by the court. Another case will be heard later this month.

In this case, Verizon Communications, Sprint Nextel, and AT&T were accused of privacy violations by assisting the government with intelligence gathering following the hijack attacks on New York and Washington.

The law had previously required the government to justify a national security interest before any phone calls and emails originating in another country could be monitored. A federal judge had to sign any search warrant. But President George W. Bush secretly suspended that requirement following the attacks.

After "warrantless wiretapping" was exposed, the president and supporters in Congress moved to amend the law, which defenders contend is designed to target only foreigners living outside the United States.

The retroactive immunity was challenged in the class action suit turned aside by the high court on Tuesday.

Privacy groups worry such electronic dragnets could easily and unknowingly intrude on the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. The government calls that "speculation" but cites national security in refusing to provide specifics.

The lawsuits launched by a number of telecommunications customers cited the testimony of Mark Klein, a retired AT&T engineer from San Francisco, who claimed company executives gave government access to internal hardware.

The result, he testified, was "vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet, whether that be people's email, web surfing or any other data."

In an appeal, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union said the retroactive immunity was unconstitutional because it gave unfettered power to the executive branch - namely the attorney general and the director of national intelligence - to decide it could not be held accountable in court.

Attorney General Eric Holder has used that power to block about 30 suits.

Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the appeal. Previously released financial records show he has owned telecommunications stock and likely recused himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The Supreme Court will hear a related challenge to the domestic surveillance program on October 29.

The larger issue involves the constitutionality of the government's electronic monitoring of targeted foreigners.

A federal appeals court in New York last year ruled domestic plaintiffs who deal with global clients and co-workers reasonably feared the government was reading and hearing their sensitive communications. Those groups took costly measures to avoid such intrusions.

The question to be addressed is whether certain Americans have "standing" to challenge the federal law without a specific showing they have been monitored.

Other lawsuits over the surveillance program that raise various legal issues are pending in lower courts.

The case rejected Tuesday is Hepting v. AT&T (11-1200). The case to be heard later this month is Clapper v. Amnesty International USA (11-1025)

Filed under: Intelligence
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. ClarkClurn

    5kpg5 p0kcm 1mwp

    March 1, 2021 at 10:51 am | Reply
  2. ClarkClurn

    8waxx nr0lv bvc7

    February 28, 2021 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  3. SocialMedia Services2021

    Best Marketing Services – Cheapest on Market. SMM Supreme is the Top 5 Best Social Media Website in the World. Best Quality-Price Ratio on the market with 714,928 orders until now. – Facebook Fan Page Likes for $4.50/1000 – Instagram Followers for $0.78/1000 – Youtube Views: $1.62/1000 – Twitter followers: $2.10/1000 – Paypal Deposit – Bitcoin Deposit – Fast order processing – 1 Hour Delivery Our Website: https://smmsupreme.com/services


    February 19, 2021 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  4. Profitable-Digital-Marketing Strategy-and-Plan

    1500 USA Visitors Daily For 30 Days From Niche Targeted Organic Traffic From Google: https://www.seoclerk.com/Traffic/840816/1500-USA-Visitors-Daily-For-30-Days-From-Niche-Targeted-Organic-Traffic-From-Google


    February 16, 2021 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  5. Bea Stary

    Earn $100/Day With Our Passive Income System – Best Autopilot income system 2021


    February 6, 2021 at 7:56 am | Reply
  6. Ralph Colbenson


    January 28, 2021 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  7. Jaunita Kuhlo

    Do you want get more social network traffic, likes, and retweets? SMM Supreme uses his own panel system to generate social media traffic to any website. Best Quality-Price Ratio on the market with 714928 orders until now. – Facebook Fan Page Likes: $4.50/1000 – Instagram Followers: $0.78/1000 – Youtube Views: $1.62/1000 – Twitter followers: $2.10/1000 – Paypal Deposit – Payeer Deposit – Automatic order processing – 30 minutes to send to customers


    January 27, 2021 at 2:56 am | Reply
  8. detectives privados fuenlabrada

    detectives privados arcos de la frontera


    December 12, 2020 at 12:17 am | Reply
  9. adidas stan smith

    I would like to express my thanks to this writer for bailing me out of this particular issue. Right after looking out throughout the online world and obtaining basics which are not productive, I assumed my life was done. Existing without the presence of solutions to the problems you have resolved all through your entire post is a crucial case, as well as ones which could have in a negative way damaged my entire career if I had not noticed your web site. Your main knowledge and kindness in taking care of all things was very useful. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not discovered such a solution like this. I can also at this time look forward to my future. Thanks for your time so much for the professional and results-oriented help. I will not hesitate to recommend the blog to any individual who requires assistance on this matter.
    adidas stan smith http://www.adidasnmd.cz

    June 1, 2016 at 8:15 am | Reply
  10. givenchy men t-shirt

    Suppes hosted one of the university's dinners for McQueen in 2006. "I wore his clothes when I wanted to stand out. His are some of my favorite, and I regret I don't own more." givenchy men t-shirt http://www.villageflaminio.com/Givenchy-T-shirt.html

    June 20, 2013 at 8:30 am | Reply
  11. Steve


    October 11, 2012 at 3:44 am | Reply
  12. Anonymous

    This is madness. Total crap

    October 10, 2012 at 5:12 am | Reply
  13. George Patton

    I wonder just how much these bozoes were paid to make that ruling. It seems like the government always gets it's way!

    October 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  14. nobody's fool

    "Trade us your freedom, for a little temporary safety."

    -Republican Mantra #12

    October 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  15. I've

    I've flushed things down the toilet that have more "values" than a republican.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.