Newspaper article International New York Times

Congress and Courts Weigh Constraints on Spying ; Legal Challenge Rejected, but Lawmakers Increase Calls for Accountability

Newspaper article International New York Times

Congress and Courts Weigh Constraints on Spying ; Legal Challenge Rejected, but Lawmakers Increase Calls for Accountability

Article excerpt

The intensifying push against the National Security Agency reflects new pressure being put on the surveillance program that collects telephone data.

Congressional critics of the National Security Agency program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans stepped up their efforts as the Supreme Court on Monday turned away an unusual challenge to the scope of the surveillance.

The intensifying push against the N.S.A. on both the legal and legislative fronts reflected new pressure being put on the extensive surveillance effort in the wake of the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, pressure that is running into stiff resistance from congressional leaders of both parties, as well as the Obama administration.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the challenge directly with the Supreme Court, arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had "exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation."

The justices gave no reason for rejecting the group's petition, but the unusual procedure of bypassing the lower courts probably played a role. Other, more conventional challenges to government surveillance programs are pending.

In urging the justices not to hear the case, the federal government said "the proper way" to mount a challenge "is to file an action in Federal District Court to enjoin the program, as other parties have done."

It cautioned, though, that "the government may assert certain threshold defenses to such a suit." The case is In re Electronic Privacy Information Center, No. 13-58.

After the recent revelations about widespread government surveillance, civil liberties groups have filed fresh challenges in federal courts, saying they can now show that they have standing.

The decision by the court came as members of both parties are making a push for new laws that would rein in N.S.A. data collection and bring more transparency to intelligence gathering.

Those seeking to impose new requirements on the N.S.A. hope to take advantage of a small window of opportunity and attach their provisions onto an annual Pentagon policy measure now headed for Senate consideration.

"When you have a train that is sure to reach the station, you want to add your cart to that train," said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut. "Even if it means a battle."

By raising new questions about the operations of these surveillance programs -- whose disclosure by Mr. Snowden created one of the more disruptive episodes in Barack Obama's presidency -- Congress seems set to provoke yet another uncomfortable public discussion for a White House struggling to overcome severe problems with its health law.

Leaders of both parties in Congress are hardly eager to see the issue come up again. …

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