The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has refused to hear a challenge to a federal surveillance program.
The program in question, known as “Upstream,” allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept telephone and Internet traffic from within and outside the United States.
The details of the program were among those leaked by former CIA and NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who in 2013 blew the whistle on mass surveillance programs orchestrated by the U.S. government. Until then, the administration of President George W. Bush and the intelligence community had falsely claimed that Americans’ data was not being collected and saved.
The Upstream program gives the NSA access to massive amounts of data, often through the compliance of telecommunication providers themselves. Providers choose the data most likely to be of foreign origin before handing it over to the NSA. However, the program is also used within the United States.
The case, Wikimedia v. NSA, was brought against the NSA by Wikimedia, the nonprofit group that owns Wikipedia. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) assisted Wikimedia with legal counsel.
In a blog post about the case, the ACLU wrote: “Upstream surveillance, which the government claims is authorized by the Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, is designed to ensnare all of Americans’ international communications, including emails, web-browsing content, and search engine queries. With the help of companies like Verizon and AT&T, the NSA has installed surveillance devices on the internet ‘backbone’—the network of high-capacity cables, switches, and routers across which Internet traffic travels.”
‘State Secrets Privilege’
The hearing fits into a larger cultural dispute over the proper balance between liberty and security, an issue that was brought to the fore by wide-reaching legislation passed in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Had SCOTUS heard the case, it could have marked a precedent-setting event in regards to other ongoing mass surveillance programs.
By Joseph Lord