NSA Building

Amnesty v. Clapper - Challenge to FISA Amendments Act

Last Update: February 26, 2015

What's at Stake

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted by Congress after the abuses of the 1960s and 70s, regulates the government’s conduct of intelligence surveillance inside the United States. It generally requires the government to seek warrants before monitoring Americans’ communications. In 2001, however, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to launch a warrantless wiretapping program, and in 2008 Congress ratified and expanded that program, giving the NSA almost unchecked power to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and emails. In February 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed the ACLU's lawsuit challenging the law.

Less than an hour after President Bush signed the 2008 amendments, the ACLU filed its lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality. The case, Amnesty v. Clapper, was filed on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations whose work requires them to engage in sensitive and sometimes privileged telephone and e-mail communications with individuals located outside the United States.

In 2009, a judge in New York dismissed the suit on the grounds that the ACLU’s clients couldn’t prove that their communications would be monitored under the new law. A federal appeals court reversed that ruling in 2011 and the Obama administration appealed the issue to the Supreme Court, which heard oral argument in October 2012. In a 5-4 ruling handed down on February 26, 2013, the Supreme Court held that the ACLU plaintiffs don't have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless wiretapping program.

You can view the court filings here.

ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer, Human Rights Watch General Counsel Dinah PoKempner, and journalist Chris Hedges talk about the ACLU's lawsuit against the FISA Amendments Act.

ACLU Sues Over Unconstitutional Wiretapping Law
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