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ACLU sues to uncover policy for notifying defendants of FISA surveillance

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) [government backgrounder] lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Thursday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] to compel the federal government to disclose its policy for notifying criminal defendants that they have been surveilled under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text]. The 2008 FISA amendments allow the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] to surveil [press release] US citizens' communications. The US Senate reauthorized [JURIST report] the amendments for an additional five years in December 2012. The ACLU previously represented a coalition arguing that FISA jeopardizes their ability to keep confidential communications with clients suspected of terrorist activities. The US Supreme Court, however, found that the coalition lacked standing [JURIST report] to contest FISA. The government assured the court that defendants surveilled under FISA would be informed, thus yielding standing for judicial review of the statute. Thereafter the ACLU filed a FOIA request [text, PDF] with the Justice Department in March seeking the policy of notifying defendants of FISA surveillance and records of all cases where the government made use of any information garnered under the NSA surveillance program. Reports indicate [NYT report] that the Justice Department has not been notifying defendants but has changed its policy for future conduct.

Revelations surrounding the NSA's surveillance and warrantless wiretapping have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Earlier this week a report revealed that the surveillance operations collect e-mail and phone call data as well as instant messaging and e-mail contact lists [JURIST report]. The operations' breadth and depth was revealed by Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive] in May of this year. FISA [JURIST backgrounder] was enacted in 1978 to permit electronic and physical monitoring to further national security.

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