By Brendan Sasso - 11/18/13 09:58 AM EST
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid to prevent the National Security Agency from collecting records on all U.S. phone calls.
Without comment, the court declined to hear the case brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The program collects data such as phone numbers, call times and call durations, but not the contents of any communications, according to the NSA.
EPIC's challenge, which was the only one to go directly to the Supreme Court, claimed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) overstepped its authority when it granted the NSA permission to collect the phone records in bulk.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act only authorizes the NSA to collect business records that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation.
By allowing the NSA to use that provision to collect records on millions of Americans without any ties to terrorism, the FISA court acted outside of its own jurisdiction, EPIC argued in its suit.
But EPIC faced a high bar to win. It had to show that there were “exceptional circumstances” and that it couldn't obtain adequate relief from another court.
The other lawsuits claim the NSA program, one of the most controversial revelations from the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, violates constitutional rights and the Patriot Act. But those cases could takes years to reach the Supreme Court—if they ever make it that far.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the original author of the Patriot Act, are pushing legislation that would end the phone collection program.
Defenders of the phone sweeps argue they are critical for "connecting the dots" and thwarting terror plots.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is pushing an alternate bill that would make certain tweaks aimed at improving privacy protections but would codify the phone data collection.