Report: Verizon (unsuccessfully) challenged NSA surveillance program

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You can’t fault a company for trying. The Washington Post reported on Friday that Verizon challenged—albeit unsuccessfully—the NSA’s phone call surveillance program.

Citing declassified government documents and “individuals with knowledge of the matter,” the Post states that Verizon filed a legal motion against the NSA’s phone records collection program in January—the first time a company took legal action against the NSA’s surveillance program.

Verizon’s challenge didn’t get very far, however, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ultimately ruled against the telecom giant. According to the declassified court ruling as published by TechDirt, the FISC points to the 1979 Supreme Court Case Smith v. Maryland: In that case, the court essentially ruled that there is no “actual expectation of privacy in the [phone] numbers [people] dial.”

This ruling runs counter to an earlier ruling from US District Court Judge Richard Leon, who ruled that the NSA’s telephone record collection program may be unconstitutional. Judge Leon stated that the Smith v. Maryland ruling didn’t apply because of some key differences between the Smith case and the NSA’s mass surveillance program:

“The relationship between the police and the phone company in Smith is nothing compared to the relationship that has apparently evolved for the last seven years between the Government and telecom companies .... In Smith, the Court considered a one-time, targeted request for data regarding an individual suspect in a criminal investigation, which in no way resembles the daily, all-encompassing, indiscriminate dump of phone metadata that the NSA now receives.

The Department of Justice appealed Judge Leon’s ruling in January.

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