Nearly a dozen civil liberties groups have filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency regarding the agency’s “upstream” surveillance, which is alleged to include monitoring of almost all international, and many domestic, text-based communications.
The suit, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, was filed on Tuesday in a Maryland District Court “challenges the suspicion less seizure and searching of internet traffic” by the NSA on U.S. soil, according to court documents.
The plaintiffs argue that to do their jobs they must be able to exchange information in confidence, free-from, warrantless government search which undermines the named organizations’ ability to communicate with clients, victims of human rights abuses, government officials and other civil society groups.
The plaintiffs also contend NSA spying violates the First and Fourth Amendments, as well as Article III of the Constitution, because the surveillance orders are “in the absence of any case or controversy.”
The ACLU’s concern is the government’s interpretation of the updated Foreign Intelligence Surveillance law, which in 2011 allowed the government to collect 250 million Internet communications under the FISA Amendment Acts. And In 2013, the director of National Intelligence reported the surveillance of almost 90,000 individuals or groups relied on a single court order.
The government contends that “upstream” surveillance is covered by the 2008 surveillance law and the practice includes installing devices, with the assistance of companies such as Verizon and AT&T, onto the network of cables, switches and routers that Internet traffic flows through, known as it’s “backbone.”
The ACLU further details the NSA’s surveillance program by intercepting massive amounts of communication in transit that are then searched alongside thousands of keywords associated with targets of intelligence analysts.
In addition to having weak limitations and numerous exceptions on who they can surveil, the program’s pool of potential targets can encompass completely innocent individuals as the only requisite is that the person is likely to communicate “foreign intelligence information, which can include journalists, professors, attorneys or aid workers.
The “upstream” surveillance differs from another spying program carried out by the NSA called “PRISM,” where information is obtained directly from U.S. companies providing communications services. “Upstream” allows the government to connect surveillance devices at Internet access points, which are controlled by telecommunications providers.