A secret court created by Congress to curb abuses of national-security surveillance may come under the review of the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a petition with the high court, also signed by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, asking the justices to overturn decisions made by judges in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court system. The decisions rejected the ACLU’s lawsuit claiming a First Amendment right of access to FISA court rulings affecting the rights of Americans.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created by Congress in 1978 following extensive hearings that revealed abuses by the nation’s intelligence agencies, including secret wiretaps of Americans. “The FISC’s role was originally narrow,” the ACLU’s petition states, “but today, as a result of legislative changes and new technology, the court evaluates broad programs of surveillance that can have profound implications for Americans’ privacy, expressive, and associational rights.”
It’s not hard to imagine how such surveillance powers could be abused. Protected by total secrecy, individuals working inside the government’s intelligence agencies could collect and scrutinize the electronic communications of any American, and the electronic communications of that person’s “friends” or “followers,” on the thinnest pretext of suspicion of a potential threat to national security.