The Obama Administration is asking the Supreme Court not to hear a challenge to the National Security Agency's telephone records collection program.
In July, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit that focuses on civil liberties and privacy, filed a petition to the Court, saying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court overstepped its bounds in ordering Verizon to give the NSA all telephone communications “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls," and as such should halt this disclosure. EPIC's petition marked the first NSA challenge brought to the Supreme Court; other challenges to NSA surveillance brought by civil liberties groups have targeted a lower court.
In June, the Guardian revealed the existence of this program, based on leaks from Edward Snowden. The paper reported:
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing
On Monday, the Solicitor General filed a brief in response to EPIC's petition, urging the Court not to hear the case, saying it lacked jurisdiction.
In addition, Josh Gerstein reports,
The government brief offers a short substantive defense of the NSA program, contending that data about virtually every phone call to, from, or within the U.S. in the past five years is “relevant” to terrorism investigations.
“Applying that broad understanding of relevance, lower courts, in appropriate circumstances, have authorized discovery of large volumes of information where the requester seeks to identify smaller amounts of information within the data that could directly bear on the matter,” the brief says. “Congress was aware of that broad understanding of the word ‘relevance’ when it passed Section 1861 [in 2001 and reauthorized it thereafter]. Absent any countervailing indications, therefore, this Court should presume that Congress intended to incorporate a broad understanding of relevance into Section 1861.”