Klayman v. Obama
On December 16, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in Klayman v. Obama that the NSA's bulk collection of domestic telephone call detail records likely violated the Fourth Amendment. The court granted the Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, but stayed the order pending review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court found that the Plaintiff, as a Verizon customer, had standing to challenge the constitutionality of the NSA's collection of call detail records.
- EPIC Comments on Third Annual Privacy Shield Review: EPIC provided comments to the European Commission to inform the third annual review of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, a framework that permits the transfer of Europeans' personal data to the U.S. EPIC detailed the latest developments in the U.S., including the failure to reform bulk surveillance under Section 702 of FISA, the absence of comprehensive federal privacy law and a data protection authority, and an executive order to collect data about non-citizens from across the federal government. EPIC also applauded appointments to the PCLOB and the U.S. endorsement of the OECD AI Principles. The Commission approved Privacy Shield last year, but urged the U.S. to adopt privacy legislation and to join the International Privacy Convention. The European Commission will make a determination about whether to renew the Privacy Shield this fall. (Jul. 15, 2019)
- U.S. Courts Release 2018 FISA Report: The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has issued the 2018 report on activities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The 2018 report reveals a significant decline in the number of total applications to the FISC. There were 1,318 FISA applications in 2018, down by three hundred applications from the total of 1,614 in 2017. The scrutiny of FISA applications by the Court remained steady after an uptick last year: 985 orders were granted, 261 orders were modified, 42 orders were denied in part, and 30 applications were denied in full. EPIC testified before Congress in 2012 on the need to improve review of FISA applications. EPIC Senior Counsel Alan Butler also recently appeared before Europe's highest court to provide expert analysis on U.S. surveillance law, including FISA authorities. (Jul. 11, 2019)
- Privacy Board to Review Use of Biometrics at Airports, Privacy of Passenger Data, and FBI Surveillance: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has announced three new oversight projects. The PCLOB reviews federal agency programs to ensure they do not diminish privacy and civil liberties. The Board said it will review: (1) the use of biometrics, such as facial recognition, in airports; (2) how the FBI queries data collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's Section 702, including searches for US person information called "backdoor searches"; and (3) oversight of passenger identity databases used by airlines. Earlier this year, EPIC sent a statement to the Board urging limits on the government use of facial recognition and and end to backdoor searches. In 2012, EPIC sent a detailed statement to PCLOB outlining priorities for the agency. In 2016, EPIC awarded former PCLOB Board Member Judge Patricia Wald with the EPIC Champion of Freedom Award. (Jun. 26, 2019)
- Annual Surveillance Report Reveals Upturn in U.S. Persons Call Record Searches, Unmasking: According to the Office of Director National Intelligence 2018 report, the use of information on U.S. persons collected under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act increased. The instances in which the NSA "unmasked" - revealed a U.S. person's identity in foreign intelligence data - to another agency grew from 9,529 to 16,721. In 2018, the government also searched domestic call detail records for U.S. persons at five times the rate in 2017, rising from 31,196 to 164,682. Notably, the government notifications to defendants of the use of FISA information in criminal proceedings increased from 7 in 2017 to 14 in 2018. EPIC previously testified before Congress on the need for more public reporting about the use of FISA for domestic surveillance. Several of EPIC's recommendations, including greater detail on government surveillance activities, were incorporated in the USA Freedom Act. (Apr. 30, 2019)
- Reports - NSA Call Record Program Shut Down: The National Security Agency has reportedly ended the controversial collection of Americans' phone records. The USA Freedom Act limited the NSA's bulk collection program. However, the NSA has acknowledged compliance problems and doubts remain about renewal of the program later this year. Now, a senior Hill aide has said the NSA "hasn't actually been using it for the past six months" and it is not clear "that the administration will want to start that back up." In 2013, EPIC filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the lawfulness of the program. EPIC and a coalition have since called attention to the NSA's failure comply with the requirements of the Freedom Act. EPIC previously called for an end to the phone record collection program. (Mar. 5, 2019)
- U.S. Defends Privacy Shield, But Fails to Comply with Privacy Commitments: The Department of Commerce has told the President of the European Parliament that the US is in compliance with the Privacy Shield, a pact that permits US companies to obtain the personal data of Europeans. The statement follows a resolution of Parliament to suspend the international arrangement if the U.S. did not comply in full by September 1. The Parliament cited the Cambridge Analytica data breach, the reauthorization of FISA Section 702 without reform, the failure to stand up the PCLOB, the passage of the CLOUD Act, and the absence of a Privacy Shield ombudsman. The Commerce Department disputed the Parliament's findings but failed to show progress on the issues identified. EPIC highlighted similar problems with data protection in the United States in recent comments to the European Commission. Almost six months have passed since the FTC reopened the investigation of Facebook's compliance with the 2011 consent order, which followed a complaint from EPIC and other consumer privacy organizations. (Sep. 5, 2018)
- NSA Inspector General Issues First Unclassified Report: The NSA's Office of Inspector General issued the first unclassified semi-annual report to Congress on the National Security Agency. The report describes the internal watchdog's audits, studies, and investigations of the NSA's activities. Among other findings, the OIG uncovered improper searches through U.S. persons' data collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as "many instances of noncompliance" with rules to secure NSA networks, systems, and data. In 2012, EPIC testified before Congress on the need for better reporting on the use of FISA authorities. EPIC also routinely highlights reporting on federal surveillance under the Wiretap Act. In EPIC v. NSA, EPIC obtained the Presidential Decision Directive, outlining the agency's authority for domestic surveillance. (Jul. 25, 2018)
- EPIC, Coalition Urge Compliance With Freedom Act Transparency Requirements: EPIC and a coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups urged the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to abide by the transparency requirements of the USA FREEDOM Act. The Act ended the NSA's bulk collection of domestic call detail information. The Act also requires the public reporting of the number of unique identifiers gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A related letter to the House Judiciary Committee urged the Committee to oversee the reporting requirement. In 2012, EPIC testified before Congress on the need for better reporting on the use of FISA authorities. Several of EPIC's recommendations were incorporated in the USA FREEDOM Act. (May. 31, 2018)
- Annual ODNI Report Reveals Upturn in US Surveillance: According to the Office of Director National Intelligence 2017 report, the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders to collect call records more than tripled last year, from 151 million records in 2016 to 534 million in 2017. In 2012, EPIC testified before Congress on the need for more public reporting concerning the use of FISA authorities. Several of EPIC's recommendations, including better reporting on government surveillance activities, were incorporated in the USA FREEDOM Act. (May. 7, 2018)
- U.S. Courts Release 2017 FISA Report: The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has issued the 2017 report on activities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Scrutiny of FISA applications increased substantially in 2017. The 2017 FISA report reveals that there were 1,614 FISA applications in 2017, of which 1,147 were granted, 391 were modified, 50 were denied in part, and 26 were denied in full. As compared to 2016, the FISA court denied nearly two times as many applications in part, and denied nearly three times as many applications in full. EPIC testified before Congress in 2012 on the need to improve review of FISA applications. In recent comments on US surveillance authority, EPIC noted the reauthorization of 702 spying authorities without sufficient safeguards. (Apr. 25, 2018)
- EPIC Comments to UN Highlight Privacy Flaws in US Surveillance, Consumer Protection: EPIC has submitted input to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for an upcoming report on the right to privacy in the digital age. The OHCHR is soliciting information for a report to Human Rights Council on the right to privacy around the world. EPIC's comments detail shortcomings in US privacy law, including the CLOUD Act, the reauthorization of FISA Section 702, and FTC's failure to enforce consumer privacy guarantees. EPIC also highlighted the need for the Special Rapporteur on Privacy to promote fundamental privacy rights, particularly Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Apr. 6, 2018)
- EPIC Joins Call for Increased Oversight of Intelligence Agencies: EPIC and other leading open government organizations urged Congress to promote transparency and accountability of the Intelligence agencies. The groups called for the release of annual public reports, all significant opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and an accounting on the number of Americans subject tp foreign intelligence surveillance. EPIC previously called on lawmakers to require federal agencies to obtain a warrant before searching information about Americans in foreign intelligence databases. Through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPIC obtained a report detailing the FBI's failure to follow procedures regarding the use of foreign intelligence data for a domestic criminal investigation. EPIC has also testified in Congress on reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (Feb. 9, 2018)
- Congress Renews Controversial Surveillance Measure, EU Impacted: In a decision that could jeopardize relations with Europe, Congress has renewed "Section 702" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits broad surveillance of individuals outside of the United States. The FISA Amendment Reauthorization Act also permits government surveillance of Americans and restarts the controversial "about" collection program. Congress rejected updates, including limits on data collection, that would preserve a privacy agreement between Europe and the United States. The European Court of Justice will also soon decide whether to allow data transfers from Ireland to the United States. EPIC served as the US NGO amicus curiae in that case. (Jan. 18, 2018)
- EPIC v. NSD: EPIC Obtains Secret Report on "Backdoor Searches," FBI's Failure to Follow Procedures: As the result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit EPIC v. NSD, EPIC has obtained a report from the Department of Justice National Security Division detailing the FBI's use of foreign intelligence data for a domestic criminal investigation. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorizes the surveillance of foreigners located abroad. However, the FBI can also use this data to investigate Americans. The report obtained by EPIC also shows that the FBI analyst failed to follow internal guidance to notify superiors of the search, raising questions about whether the FBI is accurately reporting these searches. The USA Rights Act, now pending in Congress, would require a federal agency to obtain a warrant to search foreign surveillance data for information on Americans. (Jan. 9, 2018)
- Senators Leahy and Lee Introduce USA Liberty Act, Reform for FISA Spying: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced the USA Liberty Act to reform surveillance under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Leahy-Lee bill would close the "backdoor search" loophole by requiring a probable cause court order before the government can review the contents of Americans' communications. The Leahy-Lee bill also codifies the ban on collecting "about" communications, mandates the appointment of amicus curiae for review of the surveillance programs, and establishes new reporting requirements. In a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPIC v. NSD, EPIC is seeking the release of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court report detailing the FBI’s use of section 702 data for domestic criminal purposes. (Nov. 20, 2017)
- EPIC v. DOJ: Court Orders DOJ to Defend Withholding of FISA Reports: A federal court, ruling in an EPIC FOIA lawsuit, has ordered the Department of Justice to defend the agency's refusal to release portions of its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reports. The semiannual reports, prepared for Congressional oversight committees, summarize significant FISA Court decisions and include the total number of FISA applications filed by the government and the number of U.S. persons targeted for surveillance. Though the court ruled that the DOJ can withhold some of the material requested by EPIC, the court found multiple "inconsistencies in the redactions that the government must address." Previously, EPIC's FOIA request and lawsuit led to the release of secret documents about the government's use of pen registers to collect records of private communications. (Nov. 7, 2017)
- EPIC Sues Justice Department for Release of Report on 'Backdoor Searches': EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice National Security Division for a report detailing the FBI's warrantless searches for information about U.S. citizens. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows conduct warrantless searches of non-U.S. persons in foreign intelligence investigations. But there are concerns that the FBI uses this authority to conduct "backdoor searches" on Americans. In EPIC v. NSD, EPIC seeks the release of a report ordered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court detailing the FBI's use of section 702 data for domestic criminal purposes. EPIC also recently joined coalition of over 50 organizations calling on lawmakers to establish a warrant requirement before the government can search 702 databases for information about U.S. citizens and residents. The USA Rights Act, now pending in Congress, would end backdoor searches by all federal agencies. (Nov. 1, 2017)
- Senators Introduce USA Rights Act, Back Significant Reforms to FISA Spying: Eleven senators introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with significant new civil liberties protections. Among other reforms, the USA Rights Act codifies the ban on collecting "about" communications, prohibits collection of domestic communications, expands the powers of the Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and requires independent amicus review during the FISC's annual authorization. The bill does not establish certain protections sought by Europeans during the recent Privacy Shield review. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr bill would expand 702 surveillance authorities. EPIC and a coalition of organizations recently urged the markup hearing on the proposal be opened to the public. (Oct. 24, 2017)
- EPIC, Coalition Call for Public Hearings on Surveillance Reform Proposals: EPIC joined a coalition of privacy and civil liberty organizations urging the Senate Intelligence Committee to open to the public any markup hearing on proposals to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes the surveillance of foreigners located abroad. "To the greatest degree possible, the consideration of legislation pertaining to Section 702...Should take place in public," the groups made clear in the letter to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders. EPIC has previously backed open public hearing on important security matters, include consideration of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013. (Oct. 20, 2017)
- EPIC, Coalition Call for End to Warrantless Section 702 Searches of Americans' Data: EPIC and a coalition of over 50 organizations called on lawmakers to require federal agencies to obtain a probable cause warrant before searching foreign intelligence databases for information about U.S. citizens and residents. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows agencies - without a warrant and in a broad range of circumstances - to search for information about Americans among communications collected for foreign intelligence purposes. In a letter to leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, the groups explained that this practice "undermine[s] constitutional protections create an unacceptable loophole to access Americans' communications in criminal and foreign intelligence investigations alike." EPIC and a coalition also recently urged Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates to uphold a promise to give a public estimate of how many Americans are caught up in NSA surveillance of foreign targets. EPIC is currently pursuing a Freedom of Information Act request for a government report to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about FBI search of Section 702 data for domestic criminal investigations. (Oct. 3, 2017)
- Senator Feinstein Proposes Reforms to Broad Spying Authority: Senator Dianne Feinstein, the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today outlined reforms to Section 702 surveillance authority. The law, which allows the NSA "PRISM" and "Upstream" surveillance programs, is set to expire at the end of this year. Senator Feinstein would end permanently the NSA's "about" searches, expand the amicus role at the intelligence court, and require the continued sunsetting of FISA authorities created in the The FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In 2012, EPIC testified before Congress on the need to establish better oversight for Section 702 prior to renewal. (Jun. 9, 2017)
- EPIC Seeks Release of FISA Order for Trump Tower: EPIC has filed an urgent FOIA request with the Department of Justice for the release of the warrant for wiretapping the Trump Tower in New York city. The President has charged that President Obama "had [his] wires tapped in Trump Tower." EPIC has filed a formal Freedom of Information request of the public release of any applications filed under "FISA" for wiretapping in Trump Tower. Such an order would have been filed by the National Security Division of the Justice Department and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The complete text of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is available in the Privacy Law Sourcebook (EPIC 2016) at the EPIC Bookstore. (Mar. 6, 2017)
- EPIC Urges House Committee To Ensure Transparency, Public Reporting in Surveillance Law: In advance of a hearing on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, EPIC has sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee urging increased transparency and new public reporting of the Government's surveillance activities. EPIC also highlighted that Section 702 is the central focus of multiple current legal challenges to international data transfer agreements occurring abroad. Section 702, which authorizes the bulk surveillance on the communications of non-U.S. persons, sunsets on December 31, 2017. EPIC testified before the Committee during the 2012 FISA reauthorization hearings. (Mar. 1, 2017)
- Intelligence Director Releases Report on Signals Intelligence Reform: The Director of National Intelligence released a final progress report from the Obama administration on signals intelligence reform. The DNI report detailed the agency's efforts under Presidential Policy Directive 28 to increase transparency and accountability. Clapper also highlighted the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's oversight role and stated that transparency is "difficult, but also, in my view, essential." The DNI stated, "The IC routinely provides the Board with the information and access it requests to carry out its oversight duties." The report also notes implementation of the Freedom Act, which prohibits the bulk collection of domestic telephone records. EPIC has supported enhanced transparency for the Intelligence Community and filed a Supreme Court petition to end the bulk data collection program. (Jan. 24, 2017)
- Senator Leahy Calls for FISA Reforms: The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the FISA Amendments Act, a law that grants the government broad surveillance powers over Internet communications. The Act, commonly referred to as "Section 702,: is the basis for the NSA’s “PRISM” program. EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 2012 on the need to limit the scope of Section 702 surveillance and to improve transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. US and EU NGOs have since called for the end of the section 702. This week Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) stated that "additional reforms are needed to protect Americans’ privacy, and restore global trust in the U.S. technology industry." (May. 13, 2016)
- Intelligence Court Skeptical of Some FISA Applications: The Department of Justice has published the 2015 FISA report, which summarizes the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The report also details the number of applications rejected or modified by the FISA Court (FISC). Overall, the Government’s applications for FISA warrants has declined since 2003 but there was a slight uptick this year with 1,456 orders granted. A significant number of orders were modified by the FISC. The FISC modified 80 orders and the Government even withdrew one application. Prior to the USA FREEDOM Act, which limited bulk collection under section 215, the FISC modified many of those orders. (May. 3, 2016)
- Intelligence Court Orders Government to Report on PRISM Collection: Three decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) were made public this week. The Court identified serious “compliance and implementation issues” related to the Section 702 ("PRISM") surveillance program. The FISC found that the NSA did not purge personal data as required by minimization procedures, and also that the FBI failed to exclude attorney-client communications. In 2012, EPIC testified before Congress and recommended the publication of FISC opinions to facilitate public oversight. (Apr. 20, 2016)
- Freedom Act Goes Into Effect, NSA Bulk Data Collection Ends: The Director of National Intelligence has announced that the NSA's bulk collection of domestic telephone records under "Section 215" ended yesterday when the USA Freedom Act took effect. The Freedom Act ended the NSA's 215 Program and established new transparency and accountability rules for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In 2012, EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to reform the Surveillance Court. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the NSA surveillance program. (Nov. 30, 2015)
- Court Suspends NSA Phone Record Collection Program : A federal court in Washington D.C. has ordered the National Security Administration to halt the bulk collection of domestic telephone records, ruling that the indiscriminate collection violates the Fourth Amendment. Following the USA Freedom Act, the telephone records program will expire at the end of the month. The government has moved to stay the judge's order. In 2013, EPIC brought the first challenge to the NSA surveillance program in the Supreme Court. EPIC has also testified before Congress on the need to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and led a broad coalition urging the President to end the NSA surveillance program. (Nov. 10, 2015)
- EPIC Joins Call for Transparency on Number of Americans Caught in NSA Surveillance: EPIC, joined by over 30 other organizations, urged the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, to disclose data on how many Americans are caught up in NSA surveillance of foreign targets. Americans’ communications are incidentally collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the FBI searches this data without a warrant or judicial oversight. EPIC, in testimony before Congress and comments to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, has repeatedly called for greater oversight and transparency of surveillance authorities. (Nov. 2, 2015)
- Intelligence Director Says NSA Access to Bulk Phone Record Data Will End: The Director of National Intelligence announced today that the NSA analysis of "section 215" telephone records previously gathered will end when the USA FREEDOM Act goes into effect on November 29, 2015. Earlier this month, the U.S. Surveillance Court ruled that the NSA could continue collecting records during a 180 day transition period, despite an earlier decision finding the program was unlawful. In 2012, EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to reform the Surveillance Court. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the NSA surveillance program. (Jul. 27, 2015)
- Surveillance Court Ignores Court Ruling, Reauthorizes NSA Bulk Collection Program: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has reauthorized the collection of domestic telephone records for 180 days. The Surveillance Court ignored the recent decision of the Federal Court of Appeals, which held that the NSA bulk collection program is unlawful. In 2012, EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to reform the Surveillance Court. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the NSA surveillance program. Congress then passed the Freedom Act to end program, but the FISC didn't get the memo. (Jul. 1, 2015)
- Senate Passes FREEDOM Act, Ends NSA Bulk Collection: The Senate has passed the USA FREEDOM Act, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Mike Lee (R-TX). The Act, which the President is expected to sign, ends the NSA bulk collection of domestic telephone records and establishes new transparency and accountability rules for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In 2012, EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to reform the Surveillance Court. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the NSA surveillance program. (Jun. 2, 2015)
- White House Begins Shutdown of Bulk Collection Program: According to media reports, the Administration has decided not to renew the legal authority for the NSA’s telephone record collection program. EPIC and a coalition of privacy organizations had urged the President to end the program, which he said he would do in 2014. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the US Supreme Court, supported by technical experts, legal scholars, and former members of the Church Committee, arguing that the program was unlawful. The Senate is expected to take up the USA Freedom Act on May 31, the day before key provisions of the Patriot Act expire. (May. 27, 2015)
- House Passes Surveillance Reform Bill, Deadline Looms for Senate: The House of Representatives has passed the USA Freedom Act of 2015. The bill would end the NSA's controversial domestic telephone record collection program--a program the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled was unlawful. The Freedom Act would also establish new transparency requirements for the Foreign Intelligence Court, recommended by EPIC in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in 2012. EPIC also opposed renewal of the NSA's Section 215 orders and petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the program. The Senate is expected to take up the bill before the June 1 expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. (May. 14, 2015)
- Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down NSA Bulk Record Collection Program: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the NSA's telephone record collection program exceeds legal authority. The government claimed that it could collect all records under the Section 215 "relevance" standard. But the court rejected that argument and held that "such an expansive concept of 'relevance' is unprecedented and unwarranted." The conclusion mirrors the argument EPIC, and a coalition of technical expert, legal scholars, and former members of the Church Committee made in Petition to the Supreme Court in 2013. EPIC explained in its petition, "It is simply not possible that every phone record in the possession of a telecommunications firm could be relevant to an authorized investigation." The Second Circuit found that Section 215 does not "authorize anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here." (May. 7, 2015)
- House Committee Approves Surveillance Reform Bill: The House Judiciary Committee voted to send the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 to the House of Representatives for further consideration prior to the June 1 Patriot Act expiration deadline. The bill would end the NSA's controversial domestic telephone record collection program. The bill would also establish new transparency requirements for Intelligence Court Orders, recommended by EPIC in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. EPIC also opposed renewal of the NSA's Section 215 orders and petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the program. (May. 1, 2015)
- Pew Survey: 57% of Americans Report That Government Surveillance of US Citizens Is "Unacceptable": The Pew Research Center has published a new report on "Americans' Privacy Strategies Post-Snowden". According to the Pew survey, 34% of Americans who know about the NSA's bulk collection of telephone records have taken "at least one step to hide or shield their information from the government." Further, 57% said that it is unacceptable for the US government to monitor the communications of US citizens. Yet 54% believe it would be "somewhat" or "very" difficult to find "tools and strategies that would help them be more private" online. EPIC maintains an Online Guide to Practical Privacy Tools and resources on Public Opinion and Privacy. EPIC also petitioned the US Supreme Court to halt NSA surveillance of domestic telephone calls. (Mar. 16, 2015)
- UK Privacy Groups Prevail in GCHQ Spying Case: A British court that oversees intelligence gathering has ruled that GCHQ, the British spy agency, violated international human rights law with the mass collection of cellphone and Internet data. Last year, the same court ruled that data could lawfully be transferred between US and UK intelligence agencies. That earlier decision is on appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In 2013, following the disclosure of the "Verizon order," which authorized the NSA's routine collection of US telephone records, EPIC brought a petition to the US Supreme Court, arguing that the agency practice exceeded the "Section 215" authority. Dozens of legal scholars and former members of the Church Committee supported the EPIC petition. (Feb. 9, 2015)
- Schneier: Over 700 Million People Taking Steps to Avoid NSA Surveillance: Famed technologist and EPIC Advisory Board member Bruce Schneier pushed back against media claims that Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA have had little impact on Internet users. A recent global survey found that 39% of Internet users who have heard of Snowden have taken steps to protect their online privacy. Some news articles have characterized these users as "merely 39%" and "only 39%." But Schneier did the math and found that Snowden’s impact has been far from insignificant: "706 million people have changed their behavior on the Internet because of what the NSA and GCHQ are doing." A recent Pew survey also indicates that the NSA revelations have had a dramatic impact on Internet users. Last year, EPIC filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the NSA's collection of domestic telephone records, following the release of the "Verizon Order." For more information, see EPIC: In re EPIC, EPIC: Smith v. Obama, and EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Reform. (Dec. 17, 2014)
- British Court Upholds Mass Surveillance by UK Spy Agency: The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which reviews complaints of unlawful surveillance by Britain's intelligence agencies, ruled that mass collection of online communications is legal. The complaint was brought by several privacy rights groups in the UK and focused on GCHQ's electronic surveillance program, TEMPORA, and information the UK spy agency obtained through NSA's PRISM and Upstream programs. The privacy rights groups plan to appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights. EPIC previously challenged the NSA's mass surveillance of U.S. phone records in a 2013 petition to the Supreme Court. EPIC's petition argued that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exceeded its authority when it ordered Verizon to turn over records on all of its customers to the NSA. The EPIC petition was supported by legal scholars and former members of the Church Committee. For more information, see In re EPIC and EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Reform. (Dec. 8, 2014)
- Senator Leahy Calls on the President to End Bulk Collection of Phone Records: Today Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) urged President Obama to end the dragnet collection of U.S. telephone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The current authorization for the NSA's bulk collection program expires on Friday, December 5, 2014. Senator Leahy's comments follow the recent efforts to pass the USA FREEDOM Act of 2014, which would end the NSA's surveillance program. Senator Leahy said that ending the reauthorization of the program "would not be a substitute for comprehensive surveillance reform legislation - but it would be an important first step." In June EPIC, joined by many organizations, urged the President and Attorney General to end the bulk collection program. And in 2013 EPIC petitioned the Supreme Court, arguing that a special surveillance court exceeded its authority when it ordered Verizon to turn over records on all of its customers to the NSA. For more information, see In re EPIC and EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Reform. (Dec. 4, 2014)
- EPIC Seeks Reports on FISA Court Decisions: In a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice, EPIC filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on Friday arguing that the agency improperly withheld surveillance reports sought by EPIC. The semiannual reports, prepared for Congressional oversight committees, summarize significant FISA Court decisions and include the total number of FISA applications filed by the government and the number of U.S. persons targeted for surveillance. They are similar to reports that are routinely disclosed to the public. EPIC argued that the "FISA Pen Register" reports should also be disclosed because they describe topics of "utmost importance to the public and are necessary to inform the ongoing debate over current surveillance authorities." EPIC maintains a summary of all the annual FISA statistics published by the Attorney General. For more information, see EPIC v. DOJ: FISA Pen Register Reports and EPIC: FISA Court Orders. (Nov. 24, 2014)
- Senate Republicans Block US Surveillance Reform: An effort led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to pass the USA FREEDOM Act failed on a narrow procedural vote last night. The FREEDOM Act would have ended the NSA's bulk collection of US telephone records. The bill would also improve oversight and accountability of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Last year, EPIC petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the bulk collection of Americans' telephone records. EPIC's petition was supported by dozens of legal scholars and former members of the Church Committee. EPIC also testified in Congress in support of improved reporting for domestic surveillance activities. For more information, see EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Reform and In re EPIC. (Nov. 19, 2014)
- FCC Levies $10 Million Fine Against Carriers for Breach of Consumer Privacy: The Federal Communications Commission announced today its largest privacy fines to date. The agency's first data security case stems from an investigation of TerraCome and YourTel American who "stored Social Security numbers, names, addresses, driver's licenses, and other sensitive information belonging to their customers on unprotected Internet servers that anyone in the world could access." The carriers will be fined $10 million for their breach of consumer privacy. Last month, the FCC reached a $7.4 million settlement with Verizon over privacy violations. EPIC previously urged the FCC to determine whether Verizon violated the Communications Act when it released consumer call detail information to the National Security Agency. Also, in response to a 2005 EPIC petition, the FCC strengthened privacy protections for telephone records, which EPIC defended in a "friend of the court" brief for the DC Circuit, establishing support for opt-in privacy safeguards. For more information, see EPIC: NCTA v. FCC (Concerning privacy of CPNI) and In re EPIC (NSA Telephone Records Surveillance). (Oct. 24, 2014)
- New Report Reviews Progress on Signals Intelligence Reform: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released the first report on the implementation of Presidential Policy Directive 28. In January, the President proposed a revised policy for foreign signals intelligence. Under the revised directive, PPD-28, intelligence agencies are required to "review and update" their policies and "establish new ones as necessary" to safeguard personal information collected through signals intelligence. Signals intelligence activities must also be "as tailored as feasible," and there must be limitations on the querying, use, dissemination, and retention of personal information. The report states that all intelligence agencies in place by January 17, 2015, one year after the President's speech. EPIC previously challenged the NSA's bulk collection of domestic and international call detail records. EPIC has also filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the NSA and other intelligence agencies elements seeking disclosure of current procedures regarding surveillance conducted under Executive Order 12333. For more information, see EPIC: EO 12333 and In re EPIC. (Oct. 23, 2014)
- Appeals Court Limits Military Surveillance of Civilian Internet Use: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in United States v. Dreyer that an agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service violated Defense Department regulations and the Posse Comitatus Act when he conducted a surveillance operation in Washington state to identify civilians who might be sharing illegal files. The 1878 Act prevents the U.S. military from enforcing laws against civilians. The appeals court ruled that the NCIS intrusion into civilian networks showed “a profound lack of regard for the important limitations on the role of the military in our civilian society.” The court also ruled that the evidence obtained by NCIS should be suppressed to “deter future violations.” In a petition to the Supreme Court, EPIC challenged the NSA’s surveillance of domestic communications. The NSA is a component of the Department of Defense. For more information, see In re EPIC and EPIC v. DOJ: Warrantless Wiretapping Program. (Sep. 26, 2014)
- Federal Communications Commission Fines Verizon $7.4 Million for Violating Consumer Privacy: Verizon will pay the Federal Communications Commission $7.4 million to settle claims that the company violated the privacy rights of nearly two million consumers. The FCC found that Verizon failed to inform consumers of their privacy rights, including how to prevent their personal information from being used for marketing purposes. The Verizon payment is the largest consumer privacy settlement in FCC history. In 2013, EPIC urged the FCC to investigate Verizon's disclosure of customer record information to the NSA. Also, in response to a 2005 EPIC petition, the FCC strengthened privacy protections for telephone records, which EPIC defended in a "friend of the court" brief for the DC Circuit, establishing support for opt-in privacy safeguards. For more information, see EPIC: Customer Proprietary Network Information, EPIC: NCTA v. FCC (Concerning privacy of CPNI), EPIC: US West v. FCC (Privacy of Telephone Records), and In re EPIC (NSA Telephone Records Surveillance). (Sep. 4, 2014)
- Documents Obtained by EPIC Lawsuit Show NSA’s Internet Metadata Program Was Sharply Criticized By FISA Judges While Congressional Oversight Lagged for Years: In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice, EPIC has obtained many documents about the NSA's Internet Metadata program. These include the Government's original FISA application seeking authorization to collect data from millions of e-mails, as well as declarations from NSA officials describing the program. The documents show that FISA Court Judge John Bates chastised the agency for "long-standing and pervasive violations of the prior [court] orders in this matter.'' The FISA Court first authorized the program in 2004, but the documents obtained by EPIC show that the legal justification was not provided to Congress until 2009. The documents also reveal that the DOJ withheld information about the program in testimony for the Senate Intelligence hearing prior to the reauthorization of the legal authority. The program was shut down in 2011 after a detailed review. For more information, see EPIC v. DOJ (FISA Pen Register) and EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Aug. 12, 2014)
- Senator Leahy Introduces Bill to End NSA Bulk Record Collection: Today Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), joined by Democratic and Republican Senators, introduced legislation to end the NSA's practice of collecting telephone records of Americans. Leahy described the bill as "the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act 13 years ago." The USA Freedom Act would require require the government to specify specific "search terms" to obtain telephone record information. The government would have to demonstrate that it has a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that the search term is associated with a foreign terrorist organization. The bill also requires a comprehensive transparency report for the use of FISA surveillance authorities. However, the bill exempts the FBI from certain reporting requirements. Civil liberties organizations support the bill. EPIC previously filed a Petition for Mandamus with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to end the bulk collection of American's phone records. EPIC's petition was supported by legal scholars, technical experts, and former members of the Church Committee. For more information, see In re EPIC and EPIC: FISA Reform. (Jul. 29, 2014)
On June 5, 2013, the Guardian first published an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which required Verizon to produce all domestic telephone call detail records to the National Security Agency ("NSA") on an ongoing basis. This collection was not based on any particularized suspicion of wrongdoing, all call records were collected in bulk from Verizon every day. Specifically, the FISA order required that Verizon turn over “all call detail records or 'telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” Once revealed, the government confirmed the existence of the Verizon order and of the telephone metadata program.
Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978 following the discovery by the Church Committee of decades of domestic surveillance by the Intelligence Community. The Act prohibited domestic surveillance except with the approval of a newly created court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Under the FISA, the FISC could only grant orders if the government established probable cause to believe that the target of surveillance was foreign powers or agents of a foreign power.
However, Congress modified the FISA in the 2001 USA PATRIOT and the 2006 Patriot Act Reauthorization. Specifically, Congress authorized the FBI in Section 215 to apply for a FISC order compelling businesses to produce "tangible things" relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism. Section 215 provided that businesses who received these orders could challenge them in the FISC. We now know that the FISC has since 2006 issued orders that require major telephone companies, like Verizon, to provide all telephone call detail records to the NSA.
In this case, the Plaintiff, a Verizon Wireless customer, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C., alleging that the government is conducting a "secret and illegal scheme to intercept and analyze vast quantities of domestic telephone communications [and] of communications from the Internet and electronic service providers." The Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction requiring the NSA to stop collecting his telephone call detail records. The court granted the Plaintiff's preliminary injunction, finding that the program likely violated the Fourth Amendment, but subsequently stayed the decision pending review by the D.C. Circuit.
In evaluating the Fourth Amendment question, the court found that the bulk collection of metadata violated a reasonable expectation of privacy and was thus a search under the Fourth Amendment. The court distinguished the 1979 Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland, which involved the collection of call details from an individual suspect's home telephone using a pen register device, from the bulk collection of all telephone call records by the NSA. The court went on to find that the warrantless bulk collection of call detail records was unreasonable and likely violated the Fourth Amendment. In particular, the court found that the government had not shown a single instance in which the metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, and thus the program did not serve an important governmental interest.
EPIC has an interest in promoting privacy in digital spaces by upholding robust Fourth Amendment protections. Halting NSA mass surveillance of domestic telephone calls serves this interest. In fact, the second sentence of the Klayman opinion cites EPIC’s petition for a Writ of Mandamus in In re EPIC. EPIC filed its Mandamus Petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in July 2013, seeking to overturn the decision of the FISA Court to authorize the NSA's bulk collection of call detail records.
EPIC also filed an amicus curiae brief in Smith v. Obama, a similar challenge to the NSA Metadata program currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In its brief, EPIC argued that communications data should be protected under the Fourth Amendment and that the 1979 decision Smith v. Maryland no longer governs metadata collection given the evolution of modern communications technology.
The decision in Klayman directly conflicts with the decision in a similar case, ACLU v. Clapper. ACLU v. Clapper, 959 F. Supp. 2d 724, 742 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). Like Klayman, the ACLU brought both statutory and constitutional claims. As in Klayman, the court only found standing for the constitutional claims. Id. at 738. However, unlike in Klayman, the Clapper court did not find that the metadata program had violated Fourth Amendment rights. Instead, the Clapper court found that Verizon customers had voluntarily conveyed their telephone metadata to Verizon and thus did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Id. at 752. For more information, see EPIC: ACLU v. Clapper.
The judge in another similar case, Smith v. Obama, endorsed Klayman but felt obligated to follow Clapper as precedent. Smith v. Obama, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76344 (2014) (saying that “[Klayman] should serve as the template for a supreme court decision, and might yet . . . but [Clapper] has not been overruled and continues to bind the court”).
The Judicial branch is not alone in critiquing the metadata program. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency within the Executive branch, released a report in January 2014 that called for the end of the telephone metadata program and other domestic bulk data programs. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Jan. 23, 2014). The Board unanimously agreed that the program was not effective, while only a majority of the Board did not believe that it was legal. Id. In particular, the board believed that less invasive alternatives exist that could yield the counterterrorism objectives that the metadata program seeks. Id.
The Executive branch has also taken action by President Obama appointing a panel to review the surveillance programs, entitled the President’s Review Group On Intelligence & Communications Technologies. In December 2013, the panel released a report suggesting drastic changes to the current program. The President’s Review Group On Intelligence & Communications Technologies, Liberty And Security In A Changing World (Dec. 12, 2013). First, the panel recommended that telephone metadata be held by phone companies or third parties rather than by the government itself. Id at 25. The government could request access to data with a court order. Id. Second, the panel called for legislation to require judicial oversight before the FBI could subpoena digital information using national security letters. Id at 24. Finally, the panel insisted that the NSA should not be able to conduct warrantless searches of US citizens’ data in the course of investigating foreigners overseas. Id at 28.
The Legislative branch has begun revising the USA FREEDOM ACT following a speech by President Obama. President Barack Obama, Speech on Reforms to USA FREEDOM ACT (Jan. 17 2014). The President called on Congress to transition the possession of telephone metadata to phone companies, allowing the government to individually request the data when needed. Id. Additionally, Obama unilaterally ordered that the government must obtain a court order for each number it wants to query in its database of records. Id. Finally, Obama limited searches within the database to only access numbers that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization, reduced from the previous three. Id.
- U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
- Laura Donohue, Bulk Metadata Collection: Statutory And Constitutional Considerations, 37 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 759 (2013)
- Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Jan. 23, 2014)
- The President’s Review Group On Intelligence & Communications Technologies, Liberty And Security In A Changing World (Dec. 12, 2013)
- Cyrus Farivar, Top Appeals Court to Hear Why NSA Metadata Spying Should Stay or Go, ArsTechnica (Nov. 4, 2014)
- Julian Hattem, NSA Phone Program Faces Key Court Test, The Hill (Nov. 2, 2014)
- Zoe Tillman, Meet the D.C. Circuit Judges Who Will Decide The NSA Case, National Law Journal (Oct. 6, 2014)
- DOJ Files Opening Brief, Just Security, July 15, 2014
- Charlie Savage, Judge Questions Legality of N.S.A. Phone Records, N.Y. Times (Dec 16, 2013)
- Spencer Ackerman, NSA phone surveillance program likely unconstitutional, federal judge rules, The Guardian (Dec 16, 2013)
- Bill Mears, Judge: NSA domestic phone data-mining unconstitutional, CNN (Dec 16, 2013)
- Andrew Harris, NSA Phone Program Probably Unconstitutional, Judge Rules, Bloomberg (Dec 17, 2013)
- Carrie Johnson, Federal Judge Rules NSA Bulk Phone Record Collection Unconstitutional, NPR (Dec 16, 2013)
- Andrew Cohen, Judge's Ruling Could Jeopardize NSA Surveillance, The Atlantic (Dec 16, 2013)
Share this page:
Subscribe to the EPIC Alert
The EPIC Alert is a biweekly newsletter highlighting emerging privacy issues.