An emergency appeal was filed earlier today, urging the Supreme Court to nullify the secret court order allowing the National Security Agency to compel private companies to divulge communications metadata. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed this claim, suing as a Verizon customer since Verizon was ordered by the NSA to disclose all information on its client’s call logs.
Aside from the high profile nature of the appeal, the privacy group EPIC also took the highly unusual step of appealing to the highest court directly rather than going through a lower circuit. The group argued that an adequate ruling could not be obtained “from another court,” and that “exceptional circumstances warrant the exercise of the Court’s discretionary power.”
The “exceptional circumstances” the appeal refers to is an attempt to qualify for Rule 20 of the Supreme Court, Procedure on a Petition for an Extraordinary Writ. As both a rule and an adherence to tradition, the Court hardly ever allows these appeals and never comments on pending cases.
EPIC has argued that, given the secret nature of the Federal Intelligence Security Courts, it may not appeal the decision before a special court. Given the lack of recourse and the extraordinary consequences of the Court-sanctioned surveillance tactics, EPIC argues it, “can only obtain relief” from the Supreme Court.
FIS Court justified the order under Section 215 of the Patriot Act which allows warrants for any type of record providing the government may prove its relevance to an authorized investigation. This amounts to a blank check, or blank checkup to put it bluntly.
The suit is not aimed at Verizon since it was compelled to produce the information. Furthermore, it is likely that other telecommunication companies, undisclosed to the public, have also been forced to divulge information.
To make matters stranger, Chief Justice Roberts appointed all of the current FISC judges. This includes Florida Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson, who granted the NSA license to order all private metadata from Verizon.
Though there have been other petitions and legal actions, EPIC’s appeal is the boldest and highest profile.