July 08, 2013, 4:36 PM — A secret surveillance court has exceeded its legal authority by allowing the U.S. National Security Agency to collect customer telephone records from Verizon Communications, a privacy group said in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), in the writ of mandamus petition filed Monday, asks the Supreme Court to throw out the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's order allowing the NSA to collect all Verizon phone records.
The surveillance court "exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation," EPIC's lawyers wrote.
The surveillance court's authority to issue "such a sweeping order" exceeds congressional authorization in the Patriot Act, said Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's president. The surveillance court's order "is contrary to both the text and purpose of the statute," he added.
A spokesman for the U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence didn't immediately response to a request for comments on the EPIC petition.
The Verizon order is a violation of telephone customers' privacy, EPIC argued.
Telephone records, even without the content of phone calls, can reveal an "immense amount of sensitive, private information," Rotenberg said. "The records acquired by the NSA under this order detail the daily activities, interactions, personal and business relationships, religious and political affiliations, and other intimate details of millions of Americans," EPIC's lawyers wrote in the petition.
EPIC has standing to seek relief in the case because it is a Verizon customer, the group's lawyers wrote. The organization is concerned that the NSA is collecting its communications with legal clients, Rotenberg said.
The first chance for the Supreme Court to take up the petition will be when it reconvenes in October, Rotenberg said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.