Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could define the government’s ability to monitor innocent Americans’ international communications without a warrant. The lawsuit, Amnesty International v. Clapper, argues that the Constitution bars the National Security Agency from listening to or reading Americans’ international conversations and emails without court oversight, even if Congress blesses the NSA’s actions.
Unfortunately, the government has tried to block the courts from ever reaching that constitutional issue, arguing that unless the plaintiffs can prove they will be monitored (which is impossible, since the list of who is monitored is classified), they cannot sue. Now that threshold question has reached the Supreme Court. Based on our combined six-plus decades of experience working at the NSA, we are sure there is only one just outcome: The justices should let this case proceed, giving the courts the opportunity to determine whether the executive and legislative branches have gone too far.
The NSA cannot be trusted with this power. No agency should be. Since 2001, the NSA has been willing time and again to throw the Constitution overboard and snoop on innocent Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. Using shockingly fast machines called NARUS devices, the NSA can monitor virtually every single phone call, email and text that passes through the United States. The agency can make a mirror image of all those communications, then funnel those copies to massive data vaults. When it wants to, the NSA can then go through and compile a dossier on each and every one of us. That would be well and good if the agency followed the law and tracked only suspected terrorists. But it does not. Under the warrantless wiretapping program and now the FISA Amendments Act, the NSA conducts blanket, dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications, even when there is not even a hint that we’ve done something wrong.