A federal judge ruled in favor of the National Security Agency in a key surveillance case on Tuesday, dismissing a challenge which claimed the government’s spying operations were groundless and unconstitutional.
Filed in 2008 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, aimed to end the agency’s unwarranted surveillance of U.S. citizens, which the consumer advocacy group said violated the 4th Amendment.
The lawsuit also implicated AT&T in the operations, alleging that the phone company “routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA.” That charge was based off of a 2006 document leak by former AT&T technician and whistleblower Mark Klein, who disclosed a collection program between the company and the NSA that sent AT&T user metadata to the intelligence agency.
US District Judge Jeffrey White on Tuesday denied a partial summary judgment motion to the EFF and granted a cross-motion to the government, dismissing the case without a trial. In his order, White said the plaintiff, Carolyn Jewel, an AT&T customer, was unable to prove she was being targeted for surveillance—and that if she could, “any possible defenses would require impermissible disclosure of state secret information.”
Offering his interpretation of the decision, EFF senior staff attorney David Greene explained in a blog post:
Agreeing with the government, the court found that the plaintiffs lacked “standing” to challenge the constitutionality of the program because they could not prove that the surveillance occurred as plaintiffs’ alleged. Despite the judge’s finding that he could not adjudicate the standing issue without “risking exceptionally grave damage to national security,” he expressed frustration that he could not fully explain his analysis and reasoning because of the state secrets issue.