Skip to main content

Supreme Court won’t say if NSA phone tracking is legal – yet

police able search phone without warrant supreme court
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an effort to put blinders on the National Security Agency’s prying eyes.

On Monday, the Supreme Court revealed (pdf) that it would not hear a complaint that challenges the constitutionality of the NSA’s collection of millions of Verizon phone records, including those of millions of Americans.

The complaint, brought forth by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), argued that the NSA exceeded its legal authority by ordering Verizon to turn over telephone “metadata” – which includes numbers, times, call duration, and other data related to phone calls – because much of this data pertained entirely to calls made within the United States. The NSA’s activities are meant to target only foreign communications.

EPIC’s plea is the first challenge to the NSA’s activities to reach the Court since Edward Snowden’s leaks were first published in June. The Court did not explain its reasons for rejecting the case, though it is not surprising that it did so. As SCOTUS Blog reports, EPIC’s strategy was “unusual” due to the fact that it did not try to bring the complaint before lower federal courts before heading to the Supreme Court.

The reason for this, according to EPIC, is that no other court has the authority to overturn decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which grants NSA court orders, like the Verizon order, in secret. The Department of Justice said EPIC could bring its plea before lower courts, and the Obama administration fought back against EPIC’s efforts to have the Supreme Court hear its case.

Numerous legals scholars have concluded (pdf 1, 2) that the NSA’s collection of Verizon phone metadata violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. As for the EPIC complaint, it will likely restart through lower courts in an attempt to make it to the Supreme Court.

Editors' Recommendations

Andrew Couts
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Features Editor for Digital Trends, Andrew Couts covers a wide swath of consumer technology topics, with particular focus on…
I moved a car with my eyes, and it blew me away
Honor Magic 6 Pro eye-tracking screen with a car in the background.

The Honor Magic 6 Pro comes equipped with a feature called “Magic Capsule,” which is essentially a way to gaze through notifications without touching your phone. It’s a bit similar to Apple's Dynamic Island but with a catch.

Here, you expand the notifications without even touching your phone. You do so by controlling the phone with your eyes. To showcase the feature at MWC 2024, Honor let me start, stop, and move a car with my eyes. And it was the craziest demo I’ve ever seen at MWC.
Controlling your phone with your eyes

Read more
This $350 wearable is one of the strangest gadgets I’ve ever used
The Apollo Neuro being worn on an ankle.

Anxiety and depression are on the rise in the U.S., most likely spurred on by the global trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic but not helped by the fast pace of everyday modern life. So, when I was approached to try out the Apollo wearable — a wearable device that claims to lower stress levels, boost meditative states, and improve focus and sleep quality — I jumped at the chance.

How does it do this? Good vibrations — literally! The Apollo claims to tap into your nervous system through vibrations, using long and slow vibrations to calm you down for sleep or short, quick buzzes when it's time to focus and get stuff done. I've been playing a lot of Cyberpunk 2077, so it goes without saying I was keen to try it out.

Read more
These are the best smartphones from MWC 2024
Motorola's concept folding phone.

Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2024 has come and gone, leaving us with a flood of smartphone announcements. From new devices launching soon to wild concepts that may never see the light of day, it's the place to be if you're a phone geek.

We got a look at some of the hottest new phones during the show, and these are our picks for the very best ones.
Tecno Pova 6 Pro

Read more