Amnesty International USA v. Blair
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Amnesty v. Blair 2nd Cir. 09-4112 (2011) was a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that reversed the dismissal of the Southern District of New York. The case was brought by Amnesty International USA, International Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, The Nation Magazine, Service Employees International Union, Washington Office on Latin America, Global Fund for Women, Human Rights Watch, PEN America Center, Daniel Arshack, David Nevin, Scott McKay, and Sylvia Royce to block the FISA Amendment Acts of 2008. The lower court ruled the plaintiffs failed to prove their case, a decision which was reversed on appeal in 2011. In the 2013 case Amnesty v. Clapper, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the act could not be challenged by the plaintiffs. The Bush and Obama administrations defended the acts.
In 2008, then President George Bush signed into law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act (FAA). This act authorized United States Government surveillance of communications (i.e. telephone calls, emails, etc.) of all people within the United States and communications of United States residents' abroad. The objective was to target individuals suspected of planning acts of terrorism. According to this law, without judicial warrants, an individual's communications could be monitored and the data could be retained and analyzed without any limitations.
The ACLU and a number of other human rights and labor organizations saw this act as a violation to their first and fourth amendment rights (right to privacy and right from unreasonable search and seizure, respectively), guaranteed in the US Constitution.
The plaintiffs, led by Amnesty International USA, included:
- Global Fund For Women
- Global Rights
- Human Rights Watch
- International Criminal Defense Attorneys Association
- The Nation Magazine
- PEN American Center
- Service Employees International Union
- Washington Office on Latin America
- Daniel N. Arshack
- David Nevin
- Scott McKay
- Sylvia Royce
Unable to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment, the plaintiffs instead filed a suit claiming they had "sustained concrete harm" as a result of the 2008 amendment to the 1978 FISA act. The plaintiffs argued that since their professions require them to engage in international communications and in the exchange of sensitive data, government surveillance would likely violate the confidentiality of their work - for example in the case of attorney-client relationships.
The case was brought to District Court for the Southern Districts of New York on August 27, 2009. The Plaintiffs filed the case against Dennis C. Blair, then Director of National Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander then Director of the National Security Agency and Chief of the Central Security Service, and Eric H. Holder, then Attorney General of the United States.
To win the case, the plaintiffs' case had to satisfy each of the three requirements of Article III of the Constitution specified under the sections titled "Constitutional Standards: Injury in Fact, Causation, and Redressability." For the first requirement, Injury in Fact, the plaintiffs needed to prove that a person had suffered an injury or needed to present overwhelming proof that injury was imminent. For the second requirement, Causation, the plaintiffs needed to show a clear connection between the injury and the governmental conduct that the suit was filed in regards to. For the third requirement, the plaintiffs needed to provide evidence that reversing the governmental conduct would in fact remedy the injury done to those that were harmed.
The plaintiffs were able to establish that they would be subject to government surveillance, however, they were unable to prove to the jury that the imminent injury was directly and objectively a result of the 2008 FAA. The district court ruled that there could exist a confounding variable between the injury and the FAA. As a result, the district court concluded that the FAA could not be held liable for any injury. This verdict was delivered in 2011. The plaintiffs, headed by Amnesty International, lost their case.
- "Amnesty et al. v. Blair: Victory in FISA Amendment Act Challenge", ACLU. March 21, 2011. Accessed March 22, 2011
- "Second Circuit Rejects Obama Administration’s Effort to Block Privacy Lawsuit", Jonathan Turley. FAV Stocks. March 22, 2011. Accessed March 22, 2011
- "Amnesty v. Blair Brief" (PDF). ACLU. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- "Annotation 10 - Article III". FindLaw. Thomas Reuters. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- Berman, Emily. "In Amnesty v. Blair -- Questions of Surveillance, Harm and Standing". Brennan Center For Justice. New York University School of Law. Retrieved 24 October 2014.