WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the Supreme Court to review and overturn an unprecedented ruling allowing the government to intercept, collect, and store—without a warrant—millions of Americans’ electronic communications, including emails, texts, phone calls, and online chats.
This warrantless surveillance is conducted by U.S. intelligence agencies under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The law is exceedingly broad—Section 702 allows the government to conduct surveillance of any foreigner abroad—and the law fails to protect the constitutional rights of Americans whose texts or emails are “incidentally” collected when communicating with those people.
This warrantless surveillance of Americans is unconstitutional and should be struck down.
Yet the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, ruling in U.S. v. Mohamud, decided that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to Americans whose communications were intercepted incidentally and searched without a warrant. The case centered on Mohammed Mohamud, an American citizen who in 2012 was charged with plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Oregon. After he had already been convicted, Mohamud was told for the first time that information used in his prosecution was obtained using Section 702. Further disclosures clarified that the government used the surveillance program known as PRISM, which gives U.S. intelligence agencies access to communications in the possession of Internet service providers such as Google, Yahoo, or Facebook, to obtain the emails at issue in the case. Mohamud sought to suppress evidence gathered through the warrantless spying, arguing that Section 702 was unconstitutional.
In a dangerous and unprecedented ruling, the Ninth Circuit upheld the warrantless search and seizure of Mohamud’s emails. EFF, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and New America’s Open Technology Institute filed an amicus brief today asking the Supreme Court to review that decision.
“The ruling provides an end-run around the Fourth Amendment, converting sweeping warrantless surveillance directed at foreigners into a tool for spying on Americans,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mark Rumold. “Section 702 is unlike any surveillance law in our country’s history, it is unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court should take this case to put a stop to this surveillance.”
Section 702, which is set to expire in December unless Congress reauthorizes it, provides the government with broad authority to collect, retain, and search Americans’ international communications, even if they don’t contain any foreign intelligence or evidence of a crime.
“We urge the Supreme Court to review this case and Section 702, which subjects Americans to warrantless surveillance on an unknown scale,” said EFF Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker. “We have long advocated for reining in NSA mass surveillance, and the ‘incidental’ collection of Americans’ private communications under Section 702 should be held unconstitutional once and for all.”
For the amicus brief:
For more on Section 702:
For more on NSA spying: