Open Tap: Is the NSA Still Monitoring Private Web Activity?

Is the National Security Agency secretly monitoring Seattle's Internet traffic? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) thinks so. Back in 2008, the organization filed a lawsuit against the NSA to put the kibosh on a spy program created during the presidency of Bush the younger. In it, former AT&T technician Mark Klein claimed that in cities across the county—Seattle included—the NSA was operating "secure rooms" where the agency was allegedly conducting surveillance on customers' online activities. The initial lawsuit was dismissed, but now EFF is taking another crack. A government agency operating a clandestine and possibly illegal operation to analyze instant-message chats might seem like the stuff of mediocre Will Smith movies. But only if you haven't read The Washington Post's "Top Secret America" series on the rapid buildup of the government's intelligence sector, where everyday people working for private government contractors now have the sort of security clearance once reserved for CIA agents. Asked if the EFF believes that these "secure rooms" are still in operation five years after then–President Bush instituted the controversial program, EFF spokesperson Rebecca Jeschke says, "No one has said they aren't." That's why the EFF has petitioned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate its case, arguing that the lower court's decision was legally unsound. In January, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker—the same judge who recently found California's anti–gay marriage Proposition 8 unconstitutional—dismissed the suit, arguing that because the program affected so many people, no one plaintiff, or group of plaintiffs, had sustained significant enough injury to bring a claim. The EFF now argues in its brief that "Unless corrected, the District Court's ruling risks creating a perverse incentive for the government to violate the privacy rights of as many citizens as possible in order to avoid judicial review of its actions."

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