A U.S. judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of the National Security Agency in a lawsuit challenging the interception of Internet communications without a warrant, according to a court filing.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland said the plaintiffs in the case — AT&T customers — had not shown that all AT&T customers’ Internet communications were currently the subject of a “dragnet seizure and search program, controlled by or at the direction of the Government,” and they therefore did not have standing to file a lawsuit under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against warrantless searches and seizures.
White said the plaintiffs’ understanding of the key parts of the data collection process was “substantially inaccurate.”
Additionally, even if the plaintiffs had standing, White said a Fourth Amendment claim would have to be dismissed to protect secret information that would damage national security if released. He granted partial summary judgment for the government.
“The Court is frustrated by the prospect of deciding the current motions without full public disclosure of the Court’s analysis and reasoning … ,” White wrote in his ruling. “The Court is persuaded that its decision is correct both legally and factually and furthermore is required by the interests of national security.”
The ruling is the latest in litigation over the government’s ability to monitor Internet traffic, and how it balances national security priorities against privacy. NSA surveillance programs have provoked worldwide controversy since they were disclosed by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden.
An attorney for the plaintiffs said that the judge’s ruling did not end part of the case concerning telephone record collection and other mass surveillance.
“It would be a travesty of justice if our clients are denied their day in court over the ‘secrecy’ of a program that has been front-page news for nearly a decade,” said attorney Kurt Opsahl, who is deputy general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which brought the suit in 2008, in a statement on the EFF website.
The Department of Justice declined to comment.
Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the judge’s ruling was disappointing.
“What we want is a court to rule on the merits of the NSA’s program,” he said. “Is what they are doing legal? Is it constitutional? The court didn’t do that. It didn’t say `yes’ or `no’.”