An organization that fights for the privacy rights of Americans is trumpeting what it calls a victory in its fight against the National Security Agency over the government’s spy-on-Americans efforts.
“We’re finally going to get some honesty on how the NSA spies on innocent Americans’ communications,” wrote Cindy Cohn in an analysis of the lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Its case is one of several against the NSA’s actions.
A federal judge now has ruled in Jewel v. NSA that the government must provide all relevant evidence necessary to prove or deny that “plaintiffs were subject to NSA surveillance via tapping into the Internet backbone.”
“This includes surveillance done pursuant to section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act since 2008, which is up for renewal this year. It also includes surveillance between 2001-8 conducted pursuant to the Presidents Surveillance Program,” the organization explained.
The issue now is that, unlike generations ago when technology required a physical intercept for spy operations, modern technology makes it simple to monitor telephone calls, Internet communications and more with virtually no trace.
Last year, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the government to comply with a narrowed set of discovery requests aimed at whether the plaintiffs’ communications were subject to the mass NSA program tapping into the Internet backbone called Upstream.
Although there are similar cases, EFF said the Jewel v. NSA case is “the first time the NSA has been ordered to respond to civil discovery about any of its mass surveillance programs.”
The case was filed about 10 years ago, and since then the government has “abandoned or dramatically reduced three of the four key programs.”
Those involve, EFF reported, collection of Internet metadata, telephone records collections under the Patriot Act and the full search of information collected from the Internet backbone, EFF said.
But still remaining are arguments over the “interception and use of communications” over the Internet backbone, the EFF said.
“Thanks to the new order, the U.S. government will, for the first time, have to answer to privacy concerns about the remaining Internet surveillance methods and their impact on Americans,” officials said.
They said it’s been through a combination of litigation, activism, technology, congressional pressure and revelations about government spying that the NSA’s access to private information gradually is being reduced.
“EFF will continue to push forward with the litigation and all of EFF’s other efforts until all Americans who rely on the Internet can feel safe that they can communicate online without NSA having broad access to their communications,” the group said.
The case originally was filed in 2008 against the NSA on behalf of AT&T customers and challenged government surveillance of their communications.
As part of the arguments, EFF documented how a former AT&T technician routed copies of Internet traffic directly to a secret room in San Francisco that was run by the NSA.
The case has survived multiple efforts by the government, including the Obama administration, to get rid of it.