* Monitoring of international emails and phone calls
* Obama administration cites national security
* At issue whether lawsuit can go forward
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, May 21 The Supreme Court agreed on
Monday to hear an Obama administration appeal arguing that
attorneys, journalists and human rights groups have no right to
sue over a law making it easier for U.S. intelligence agencies
to eavesdrop on foreign communications.
The justices said they would review a ruling by a U.S.
appeals court in New York that the plaintiffs have the legal
right to proceed with their challenge to a 2008 amendment to the
law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The section at issue allows intelligence agencies to
eavesdrop on overseas communications, including phone calls and
e-mails, more widely and with less judicial oversight than in
The change meant the U.S. government does not have to submit
to a special judge an individualized application to monitor a
non-American overseas. Instead, the U.S. attorney general and
the director of national intelligence can apply for mass
surveillance authorization from the judge.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the attorney
general and the director of national intelligence in 2008 in
challenging the law as unconstitutional.
The plaintiffs argued they had the legal standing to proceed
with their lawsuit because they suspected their communications
with people abroad were being monitored.
They said they had reasonable fear of injury from the
surveillance and had to take costly, burdensome steps to protect
the confidentiality of their communications.
The appeals court agreed and reversed a ruling by a federal
judge who dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds the plaintiffs
lacked the standing to sue because they could not show they had
been actually harmed by the surveillance.
The appeals court did not address the merits of the
constitutional challenge and that issue will not be before the
Supreme Court either.
But even on the standing issue, the Obama administration
cited national security in its appeal.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said Congress in adopting
the law regulated "the nation's exceedingly important need to
conduct foreign intelligence surveillance" targeting certain
non-Americans. The litigation threatened to disrupt important
activities "protecting the national security," he said.
The ACLU opposed the government's appeal.
"It's crucial that the government's surveillance activities
be subject to constitutional limits, but the administration's
argument would effectively insulate the most intrusive
surveillance programs from judicial review," Jameel Jaffer, the
ACLU's deputy legal director, said.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case during its
upcoming term that begins in October, with a ruling likely early
The Supreme Court case is James Clapper v. Amnesty
International USA, No. 11-1025.
(Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by Vicki Allen)