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Supreme Court Blocks Challenge To NSA Phone Tracking RT November 18, 2013

The Supreme Court announced Monday morning that it would not be considering at this time a complaint filed months earlier that challenged the legality of the National Security Agency’s dragnet telephone surveillance program. The high court issued a notice early Monday without comment acknowledging that it would not be weighing in on a matter introduced this past June by a privacy watchdog group after NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed evidence showing that the United States intelligence agency was collecting metadata pertaining to the phone calls of millions of American customers of the telecommunications company Verizon on a regular basis. That disclosure — the first of many NSA documents leaked by Mr. Snowden — prompted the Washington, DC-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, to ask the Supreme Court to consider taking action that would end the collection of phone records on a major scale. When EPIC filed their petition in June, they wrote, “We believe that the NSA’s collection of domestic communications contravenes the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and violates several federal privacy laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 as amended.” “We ask the NSA to immediately suspend collection of solely domestic communications pending the competition of a public rulemaking as required by law. We intend to renew our request each week until we receive your response,” EPIC said.

Five months later, though, the Supreme Court said this week that it would not be hearing EPIC’s plea. A document began circulating early Monday in which the high court listed the petition filed by the privacy advocates as denied. With other cases still pending, however, alternative routes may eventually lead to reform of the NSA’s habits on some level. Lower courts are still in the midst of deciding what action they will take with regards to similar lawsuits filed by other groups in response to the Snowden leaks and the revelations they made possible. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and conservative legal activist Larry Klayman have filed separate civil lawsuits in various US District Courts challenging the NSA’s program, all of which are still pending. Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the EFF, told the Washington Post only weeks after the first Snowden leak appeared that the disclosures had been a “tremendous boon” to other matters being litigated, and pointed to no fewer than five previously-filed complaints challenging various government-led surveillance programs. "Now that this secret surveillance program has been disclosed, and now that Congressional leaders and legal scholars agree it is unlawful, we have a chance for the Supreme Court to weigh in,” EPIC lead counsel Alan Butler told The Verge on Monday.

Bill Clinton On NSA: “…We’ll Have No Security And No Privacy” Washington’s Blog November 18, 2013

Bill Clinton said (via Agence France-Presse): “The question is when, if ever, is the government justified in going beyond the patterns to listen to telephone calls, read emails, read text messages, and who’s supposed to decide that?”The fact that Snowden was able to receive a top-secret security clearance despite having only been a contractor for several months “made me think that we are on the verge of having the worst of all worlds: We’ll have no security and no privacy” ….

He’s right. Top security experts say that mass spying interferes with U.S. counter-terror efforts (more here and here) and harms web security. And it is totally destroying our privacy. Clinton isn’t the only former president to slam mass surveillance. Jimmy Carter said that NSA spying on Americans meant that “America has no functioning democracy”. And Clinton’s VP – Al Gore – says it constitutes “crimes against the Constitution of the United States”.

NSA Sees 888% Increase In FOIA Requests Yamiche Alcindor USA Today November 18, 2013

The NSA will neither confirm nor deny that it has gathered information on anyone. Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect figure for the increase in open-records requests. Fueled by the Edward Snowden scandal, more Americans than ever are asking the National Security Agency if their personal life is being spied on. And the NSA has a very direct answer for them: Tough luck, we're not telling you. Americans are inundating the NSA with open-records requests, leading to an 888% increase in such inquiries in the past fiscal year. Anyone asking is getting a standard pre-written letter saying the NSA can neither confirm nor deny that any information has been gathered. "This was the largest spike we've ever had," said Pamela Phillips, the chief of the NSA Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Office, which handles all records requests to the agency. "We've had requests from individuals who want any records we have on their phone calls, their phone numbers, their e-mail addresses, their IP addresses, anything like that." Spy shoes to drones: How U.S. surveillance changed

News reports of the NSA's surveillance program motivates most inquirers, she said. During the first quarter of the NSA's last fiscal year, which went from October to December 2012, it received 257 open-records requests. The next quarter, it received 241. However, on June 6, at the end of NSA's third fiscal quarter, news of Snowden's leaks hit the press, and the agency got 1,302 requests. In the next three months, the NSA received 2,538 requests. The spike has continued into the fall months and has overwhelmed her staff, Phillips said. Joel Watts, 35, of Charleston, W.Va., put in an open-records request in June, days after learning about Snowden's leaks and the NSA's surveillance tactics. Some three weeks later, he received a letter telling him the agency wouldn't say if they had collected information on the health and safety administrator. "It's a sign of disrespect to American citizens and the democratic process," he said. "I should have the right to know if I'm being surveyed if there's no criminal procedures in process." Watts said he understands the need for secrecy when dealing with terrorism but thinks the NSA is violating constitutional rights by withholding information it might have on the American public. He also said the NSA's non-responses highlight problems with FOIA requests. "We should not have to fill out forms and pay money for the government to be transparent," he said. "It's just a way for them to legally say no." The spike in requests, a large backlog in responses and lack of information illustrates the limits of open-records requests and the determination of NSA to remain mum despite Snowden's historic leaks, experts say. "People are legitimately troubled by the idea that the government is monitoring and collecting information about their e-mail traffic, phone calls and who knows what else," said Anne Weismann, chief counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group. "There is a growing sense of horror every time there is a new report about the data." She said the NSA's failure to provide people with answers shows that the agency is burying its head in the sand despite Snowden's huge document dump. The tactic is successful, she said, because most people don't have the resources to fight for information through appeals or in court. And even if people do fight, courts often side with intelligence agencies who say they want to protect national security, Weismann said. Last fiscal year, the NSA spent close to $4.8 million processing FOIA requests, appeals and dealing with litigation in connection with the requests. However, Phillips said, because of sequester cuts the agency spent less money last fiscal year than in previous ones. Some requests simply state that a person wants any and all information the NSA has about them. Others, however, go into detail and ask for specifics about how the NSA is run, how its surveillance program works as well as how the NSA has gone about collecting information.

While the NSA is hearing mostly from the public, journalists and civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center are also digging, Phillips said. Her 19-person staff is grappling to deal with the boom in requests, she said. More than 900 are still pending, although the NSA tries to get back to people in the 20 days required by law, she said. Sometimes it can take months, even years, to get a response. Even after a long wait, the agency for the most part is sharing nothing about the topic people want the most information about. That frustrates Weismann. "They can monitor in the most sophisticated way, and they say they are getting overwhelmed. I think that's facially ludicrous," she said. Meanwhile, Phillips said her staff doesn't do searches on the majority of requests. Workers don't look for any information when people request data on themselves because the NSA FOIA office doesn't have access to surveillance files, she said. She also explained that the agency doesn't confirm or deny if they have records on individuals because it doesn't want to tip off surveillance targets. "We know we're dealing with frustrated people and people who are upset by what they're hearing," Phillips said. "But that's the only response that we're able to provide them on that topic." Phillips estimates that her office will continue to get a lot of requests. In 2006, the office saw a two-week spike of 500 or 800 requests with news of the NSA's terrorist surveillance program, she said. A year and half ago, there was a 200-request spike when a TV program mentioned a NSA surveillance program. This time, Snowden's leaks have caused a months-long spike that seems only to be intensifying. The NSA has declassified some information and is working on releasing more, Phillips said. "It just confirms that in the case of the NSA, leaks work," said Nate Jones, FOIA coordinator with the National Security Archive, a non-profit research institution. "They don't release anything through normal means. The only way the public really learns about them is through leaks."


Supreme Court Blocks Challenge To NSA Phone Tracking  

The Supreme Court announced Monday morning that it would not be considering at this time a complaint filed months earlier that challenged th...

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