San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a federal court today that there was no doubt that the government has destroyed years of evidence of NSA spying – the government itself has admitted to it in recent court filings. In a brief filed today in response to this illegal destruction, EFF is asking that the court make an "adverse inference" that the destroyed evidence would show that plaintiffs communications and records were in fact swept up in the mass NSA spying programs.
EFF filed its first lawsuit challenging illegal government spying in 2006. The current dispute arises from Jewel v. NSA, EFF's 2008 case that challenges the government's mass seizure of three kinds of information: Internet and telephone content, telephone records, and Internet records, all going back to 2001. EFF's brief notes that the government's own declarations make clear that the government has destroyed five years of the content it collected between 2007 and 2012, three years worth of the telephone records it seized between 2006 and 2009, and seven years of the Internet records it seized between 2004 and 2011, when it claims to have ended the Internet records seizures.
"The court has issued a number of preservation orders over the years, but the government decided – without consent from the judge or even informing EFF – that those orders simply don't apply," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Regular civil litigants would face severe sanctions if they so obviously destroyed relevant evidence. But we are asking for a modest remedy: a ruling that we can assume the destroyed records would show that our plaintiffs were in fact surveilled by the government."
The government's reinterpretation of EFF's lawsuits and the preservation orders came to light in March, when government lawyers revealed secret court filings from 2007. In these filings, the government unilaterally claimed that EFF's lawsuits only concerned the original Bush-era spying program, which was done purely on claims of executive power. Without court approval, much less telling EFF, the government then decided that it did not need even to preserve evidence of the same mass spying done pursuant to FISA court orders, which were obtained in 2004 for Internet records, 2006 for telephone records, and 2007 for mass content collection from fiber optic cables.
"EFF and our clients have always had the same simple claim: the government's mass, warrantless surveillance violates the rights of all Americans and must be stopped. The surveillance was warrantless under the executive's authority and it is still warrantless under the FISA court, as those orders are plainly not warrants." said Cohn. "The government's attempt to limit our claims based upon their secret, shifting rationales is nothing short of outrageous, and their clandestine decision to destroy evidence under this flimsy argument is rightly sanctionable. Nevertheless, we are simply asking the court to ensure that we are not harmed by the government's now-admitted destruction of this evidence."
For the full brief on the government's non-compliance:
For more on Jewel v. NSA:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation