Monday, July 8, 2013

EPIC Takes Surveillance Challenge Directly to Supreme Court

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, today asked the Supreme Court to vacate the order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, compelling the disclosure of domestic phone records by Verizon.  We previously posted on the FISC order here.

EPIC filed a petition for a writ of mandamus directly with the Supreme Court, bypassing the usual route through the lower courts, because of the unique nature of the FISC order.  EPIC claims that FISC Judge Roger Vinson ordered the disclosure of domestic phone records in violation of the FISC's statutory authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.  But EPIC says that under the FISA, the only court that can reverse Judge Vinson's order is the Supreme Court.  Moreover, the order creates exceptional circumstances relating to the invasion of privacy, privileged communications, and the First Amendment that warrant mandamus relief.  Thus, the mandamus petition.

On the merits, EPIC argues that Judge Vinson exceeded his authority under FISA:

[T]he FISC issued an order requiring disclosure of records for all telephone communications "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls."  The Business Records provision does not enable this type of domestic programmatic surveillance.

Specifically, the statute requires that production orders be supported by "reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation. . . . ."  50 U.S.C. Sec. 1861(b)(2)(A).  It is simply unreasonable to conclude that all telephone records for all Verizon customers in the United States could be relevant to an investigation.  Thus, the FISC simply "ha[d] no judicial power to do what it purport[ed] to do."

Petition at 18.

EPIC also argues that the order violates the separation of powers, insofar as it compels the disclosure of phone records of the judicial and legislative branches to the executive branch.

SDS

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