The Supreme Court Won't End NSA Phone Spying Quite Yet

The Supreme Court just rejected a case brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to put a stop to the NSA's telephone metadata spying program. The justices didn't offer an explanation. In fact, they didn't even offer comment on why they declined to hear the case.

It was a long shot all along, though. EPIC's case specifically targeted the top secret courts authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Rather than working up through the appeals system, the group took the case directly to the Supreme Court and, in a brief, argued that the "FISA the court exceeded its authority under current law." However, the Supreme Court rarely hears cases that haven't been litigated through the appeals system.

This is hardly the last we'll hear about a challenge to the NSA's spying practices in court. There are currently cases in Washington and in New York awaiting hearings in U.S. District Courts this week. "Neither the statute nor the Constitution permits the government to engage in that kind of dragnet surveillance of hundreds of millions of people who haven't done anything wrong," says Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU who's suing the government to put a halt to the spying programs.

It's worth pointing out that the Supreme Court declined to hear an ACLU case against the NSA earlier this year on the grounds that the group couldn't prove that it had been directly affected by the spying. The Justice Department's also holding fast, similarly arguing that the groups bringing the lawsuits can't prove that they were being surveilled or even affected by the surveillance. The Supreme Court also turned back a challenge against government surveillance brought by Amnesty International and friends earlier this year, again, because they couldn't prove they'd been wiretapped, and the threat of future injury was too speculative.

Nevertheless, the court battles are far from over. Depending on what happens in the U.S. District Courts this week, the civil libertarians might get their Supreme Court case after all. And meanwhile, others on Capitol Hill are working to gut the legislation that allows such surveillance, legislation like the Patriot Act. Until then, though, it remains spy season. So tread carefully. [Wired, USA Today]