The Fight to Rein in NSA Surveillance: 2016 in Review

It’s been a busy year on a number of fronts as we continue to fight to rein in the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of innocent people. Since the 2013 leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden, the secretive and powerful agency has been at the top of mind for those thinking about unconstitutional surveillance of innocent Americans and individuals abroad.

In 2016 the courts, lawmakers, and others continued to grapple with questions of how much we know about NSA surveillance. 

In the Courts

Early this year, one of EFF’s key cases in the fight to rein in government surveillance saw fallout from Congress’ 2015 passage of the modest surveillance reform bill, the USA FREEDOM Act, which formally ended a controversial program that collected records about Americans’ phone calls in bulk.

In a March decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Smith v. Obama — a case brought by Idaho neonatal nurse Anna Smith challenging the constitutionality of the phone records program — that, because the program was ended by the USA FREEDOM Act, a court could not order the government to stop collecting phone records in bulk. The ruling also sent back to a lower trial court in Idaho the question of whether the US government must delete Smith’s records.

We saw progress in another one of EFF’s flagship cases against government surveillance in June, when a federal judge in California gave us the green light to start asking the NSA questions related to Jewel v. NSA, a case challenging the dragnet surveillance of AT&T customers’ communications and communications records.

First filed in 2008, Jewel was stymied for years as the US government repeatedly sought to have it thrown out, arguing that our clients did not have standing to bring the case. The government also said that publicly available information was inadequate and could not inform a court about the legality of the NSA’s surveillance but refused to provide any clarity or explanation that would help a court…

Read more