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Court rules NSA surveillance suit brought by PEN, partners can proceed

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - New York City, March 22, 2011 - PEN American Center today hailed an appeals court ruling that PEN and its co-plaintiffs have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act, the 2008 legislation that granted the executive branch the power to carry out and expand the illegal eavesdropping activities it has engaged in secretly since 2001. The act overhauled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted in 1978.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against the Director of National Intelligence and other government officials on behalf of PEN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and a number of other leading human rights organizations and individual journalists and attorneys in July 2008. The groups, whose human rights work depends on confidential international telephone and email communications, believe these communications are vulnerable to illegal monitoring under the surveillance program that the Bush administration created following the September 11 terrorist attacks and that Congress ratified in 2008.

In August 2009, a federal court judge dismissed the suit, asserting that since PEN and its co-plaintiffs could not prove their communications had been monitored under the new law, they therefore did not have legal standing to bring the suit. In a decision issued yesterday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals emphatically held that PEN and the other organizations are directly affected by the law, and ruled that their suit can proceed.

"This is a thrilling decision for PEN and for everyone who has been insisting that surveillance programs cannot operate without regard for constitutional protections and without oversight or judicial review," said Larry Siems, director of PEN American Center's Freedom to Write and International programs.

"The FISA Amendments Act essentially rubber-stamped a secret government program that was conceived and implemented outside the law and declared that the law doesn't matter; it said that the program, which includes dragnet, warrantless monitoring of Internet and telephone communications, could continue with no oversight from Congress or the courts and at the expense of the most basic rights of the American people," Siems added. "We are grateful that we will have our day in court, and we look forward to pressing this case as an important test of the core principle that no government agency or activity is above the law."

Click here to read a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union
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