The US Supreme Court is considering the right of citizens to sue over a law that lets government agents conduct dragnet telephone and email surveillance. The current case won’t determine the constitutionality of the sweeping powers of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but a ruling against the government could set the stage for a constitutional challenge next year.
FISA was passed in 1978 to give government agents the ability to eavesdrop on communications between foreign parties without a warrant. But a FISA amendment passed in 2008 allows agents to spy on communications involving innocent U.S. citizens if their locations or identities are unknown.
Lawyers are arguing that attorneys, journalists and other plaintiffs have grounds to sue over the costly precautions that they have had to take to guard against government surveillance.
“When attorneys are talking to their clients outside the United States, they might be talking about things they’re obligated to keep confidential,” explained Alex Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney involved with the case. “So if they feel they might be under surveillance, they might have to be nonspecific or they might forego communicating about those things altogether. They might have to consider traveling abroad to have the conversation in person.”
Abdo said that reporters covering international affairs are also hampered by the possibility of eavesdropping.