High court throws out challenge to surveillance law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S.-based journalists, lawyers and human rights groups cannot challenge a federal law that allows surveillance of some international communications, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a case touching on government efforts to fight terrorism.

Split 5-4 on ideological lines, with conservatives backing the government and the liberal wing in the minority, the country's highest court said none of the three categories, including human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have legal standing to sue because they could not show they had suffered any injury.

The law in question was the 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that authorized mass surveillance by the U.S. government, without identifying specific targets, for the purpose of monitoring foreigners outside the country and gathering intelligence.

President George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretaps after the September 11, 2001, attacks to find people with ties to the al Qaeda network and other groups. He ended that program in 2007, but Congress the next year reinstated parts of it.

The Obama administration argued that the challengers did not have standing, a position the court's majority endorsed. The Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling.

Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case for the challengers, called the ruling "disturbing."

"This ruling insulates the statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans' privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches," he said in a statement.

Since the September 11 attacks, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to intervene in White House affairs governing national security and intelligence-gathering procedures, and the government has said it needs to be flexible in surveillance.

But the challengers said the amendment unreasonably added to their burdens by forcing them to stop communicating by phone and email with sources and clients, including in such places as Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and instead meet in person.

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