Clapper v. Amnesty International USA

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Event.png Clapper v. Amnesty International USA  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
DateOctober 29, 2012 - February 26, 2013
Typelegal case
CourtUS Supreme Court
PlaintiffsJames Clapper
DefendantsAmnesty International USA
DescriptionJames Clapper sought to dismiss Amnesty International's challenge of the Fisa Amendments Act. They Supreme Court ruled that dragnet surveillance could not be challenged since the plaintiffs were unlikely to be targets of surveillance - something that was revealed a few months later by the Edward Snowden leaks to be untrue. The decision appear to be nevertheless unchallenged.

As the Electronc Fontier Foundation put it "Under the Supreme Court's rule, regardless of whether its surveillance was legal or constitutional, the government can deny standing to a victim of illegal surveillance just by never revealing its illegal actions to the person affected. Essentially, one can't challenge the government's surveillance unless the government agrees."[1]


The US Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs didn't have "standing" because the ACLU couldn't prove with near-certainty that their clients, including journalists and human rights advocates, were targets of surveillance.

Majority opinion

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that "the claims of the challengers that they were likely to be targets of surveillance were based too much on speculation and on a predicted chain of events that might never occur, so they could not satisfy the constitutional requirement for being allowed to sue... Respondents cannot manufacture standing merely by inflicting harm on themselves based on their fears of hypothetical future harm that is not certainly impending."

Dissenting opinion

Justice Breyer, in dissent, said the case should have proceeded to trial. Of the spying, he wrote: “Indeed it is as likely to take place as are most future events that commonsense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen.”

Edward Snowden's revelations

Full article: Edward Snowden Affair

A few months later, Edward Snowden revealed the dragnet nature of the mass surveillance which no one has denied, suggesting that two key claims from the US Justice Department were flat out lies:

  1. That the NSA would only get the content of Americans' communications without a warrant when they are targeting a foreigner abroad for surveillance,
  2. That the Justice Department would notify criminal defendants who have been spied on under the Fisa Amendments Act

These manifest untruths notwithstanding, the ruling remains, more or less establishing a de facto precedent that anything done in secret is lawful.[2]

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