Privacy group to ask Supreme Court to halt NSA phone spying

A Washington, D.C.-based privacy rights group confirmed to The Hill that they will file an emergency petition with the Supreme Court on Monday in an effort to shut down the National Security Agency’s gathering of domestic telephone records.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, said the “exceptional circumstances” surrounding the NSA program requires an immediate response from the nation’s highest court.

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EPIC argued that it couldn't go the traditional route through the court system because the lower courts have no authority over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which monitors the NSA programs.

A handful of other law suits were filed in the aftermath of the NSA revelations, but EPIC’s Executive Director Marc Rotenberg told The New York Times, which first reported the move, that his group’s petition would be the first to challenge the FISA court’s ability to approve NSA requests to collect phone record data under the Patriot Act.

In their petition, EPIC argues the secret intelligence court “exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation.”

Last month, former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about the government’s secret programs to monitor domestic and foreign communications in an attempt to identify national security threats.

Snowden’s first leak revealed a secret court order that forced Verizon to turn over metadata on phone call numbers and the time and duration of calls for its U.S. customers. That demand was authorized by the FISA court under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Other revelations from Snowden included documents detailing the PRISM program, which gathered Internet traffic data on foreigners, as well as claims the U.S. spied on European Union offices and Chinese civilians.

The administration has defended the phone gathering, noting that the content of communications were not obtained and arguing that the programs have thwarted terror threats and saved lives.

Snowden, who has been charged with espionage, is currently in the transit area of Moscow airport, seeking asylum from a host of countries as he looks to evade a U.S. extradition request.

This story was updated at 8:23 a.m.