The Supreme Court denies review of warrantless wiretap case

Lawsuits without proof hold no ground, said the Supreme Court on Tuesday as it declined to review a case against the federal government.  A group of plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the government for its warrantless National Security Agency wiretaps program.

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, the president may order secret wiretaps with the approval of the FISA court.  The ACLU claims the president bypassed this court to wiretap suspects after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A previous ruling by a lower court judge stated that the surveillance program infringed on the Fourth Amendment.  The judge also noted that the program violated plaintiff’s First Amendment rights by causing a “chilling effect” where speech is hindered out of fear of being penalized.  The decision, last year, was overturned on appeal.  A three-judge panel concluded that the plaintiffs had no proof of being wiretapped, therefore held no standing.

What makes this lawsuit difficult, if not impossible, for plaintiffs is that they must show that the company or entity has harmed them in one way or another.  Because the NSA wiretapping is in secret and protected by state privileges, no person knows whether they have been wiretapped, reports The LA Times.  Ergo, no citizen can demonstrate proof he or she was wiretapped.

The ACLU decided to go at this from a different angle, claiming the chilling effect is grounds for suit.  On behalf of activist groups, scholars, and journalists, the civil rights group asserted that warrantless wiretapping has disrupted communications between the plaintiffs and their contacts.

The Sixth Circuit court ruled 2-1 that the plaintiffs’ case held no ground based on the lack of proof, and it did not show any direct harm from the Terrorist Surveillance Program.  The ruling stands with the backing of the Supreme
Court’s decision.

Warrantless wiretapping lawsuits are becoming more and more frequent, recently involving telecom companies and the NSA.  The ruling on Tuesday by the Supreme Court will not have affect the litigation against the telecom firms though.

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