A public interest lawyer who says the government is “messing” with his text messages pleaded with a federal judge Monday to halt the government’s electronic snooping programs, in a case that tests whether Americans will be able to challenge the NSA’s phone-records collection in regular courts.
The case raises complex but fundamental legal questions about whether federal courts will be able to probe into some of the government’s most secret programs, which Congress and the intelligence community have shrouded.
Compounding the difficulties facing Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch and the man suing to stop the data collection, is that the government won’t even tell him whether his records have been caught up in the program — potentially a key issue if Mr. Klayman wants to have standing to sue.
Obama administration attorneys packed the courtroom to watch the case, which Judge Leon said breaks legal ground, along with a similar challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal court in Manhattan.
Judge Leon gave both sides another week to file final briefs in the case and didn’t tip his hand about which way he is leaning.
Oral arguments in the ACLU’s case are slated for Friday.
Late Monday, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper declassified documents laying out other snooping programs, including what he said was a now-defunct operation to record metadata from emails. That included who was sending a message, who it was sent to, and the time and date.
The spy chief assured Americans that the program didn’t capture the contents of the emails, and that the information was stored securely and only available for “counterterrorism purposes.”
The program was first detailed in leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden earlier this year. President Obama reportedly ordered the program ended in 2011 because it wasn’t providing any leads.
The court order allowing the email collection was heavily redacted but it showed the court accepting the unchallenged assurances of government officials that they needed the program and that they would not abuse it. But in another opinion, the court made clear the government occasionally had presented inaccurate information to the judges, and that the NSA ignored the government’s own rules for who would be allowed to see the data being stored.
Justice Department attorney James J. Gilligan said Congress wrote the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act to give a special foreign intelligence surveillance court jurisdiction to approve the snooping programs.