If you’re worried about the United States government tapping your phone or perusing your emails, don’t complain to the US Supreme Court about it. They don’t want to hear it.
Today, the court ruled that citizens cannot challenge a federal law that allows for warrantless surveillance of international phone calls and emails. The ruling was a blow for civil rights activists and lawyers, and a victory for the Obama administration.
The justices voted 5-4, largely along ideological lines, in favor of the law, which was implemented in 2008. They claimed that the citizens represented by the American Civil Liberties Union—including Amnesty International, lawyers, journalists and international human rights activists—could not sufficiently show that they were actually being harmed by the potential surveillance.
The majority included Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, who wrote for the majority in the case, Clapper v. Amnesty International USA.
“It is speculative whether the government will imminently target communications to which respondents are parties,” Alito wrote.
The plaintiffs "have no actual knowledge of the Government’s ... targeting practices," Alito claimed, writing that they "can only speculate as to how the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will exercise their discretion in determining which communications to target."
The dissenting justices were Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Breyer wrote for the group, claiming that the plaintiffs would likely be involved in some of the intercepted conversations.
"“It is as likely to take place as are most future events that commonsense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen,” Breyer wrote.
“Perhaps, despite pouring rain, the streets will remain dry," he continued. "We need only assume that the Government is doing its job (to find out about, and combat, terrorism) in order to conclude that there is a high probability that the Government will intercept at least some electronic communication to which at least some of the plaintiffs are parties."
"This is a very depressing decision, but one that has become routine in a court system that when faced with what the government insists are matters of national security writes lengthy opinions about why the courts cannot defend the rule of law," Chris Hedges, a journalist that was represented by Amnesty International in the case, told the Huffington Post.
Today’s ruling was a loss for those concerned about the government’s increased ability to secretly spy on citizens since 9/11.