Clapper v. Amnesty International USA


Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, 568 U.S. 398 (2013), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that Amnesty International USA and others lacked standing to challenge 50 U.S.C. § 1881a (also known as Section 702)[1] of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as amended by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008.[2][3][4]

Clapper v. Amnesty International
Argued October 29, 2012
Decided February 26, 2013
Full case nameJames R. Clapper, Jr., Director of National Intelligence, et al., Petitioners v. Amnesty International USA, et al.
Docket no.11-1025
Citations568 U.S. 398 (more)
133 S. Ct. 1138; 185 L. Ed. 2d 264; 2013 U.S. LEXIS 1858; 2013 ILRC 1311; 41 Med. L. Rptr. 1357; 81 U.S.L.W. 4121
Case history
Priordefendant motion for summary judgment granted sub nom. Amnesty International v. McConnell, 646 F. Supp. 2d 633 (S.D.N.Y. 2009); reversed, 638 F.3d 118 (2nd Cir. 2011); rehearing en banc denied, 667 F.3d 163 (2011); certiorari granted, 566 U.S. ___ (2012)
Respondents lack Article III standing to challenge FISA Amendments Act of 2008, 50 U. S. C. §1881a.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Case opinions
MajorityAlito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas
DissentBreyer, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan


Clapper was a challenge to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which empowers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize surveillance without a showing of probable cause that the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power. The government need only demonstrate that the surveillance targets “persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States” and seeks “foreign intelligence information.”[5] The plaintiffs alleged that they sustained greater inconvenience and higher costs because of the need to conduct secure communications with parties overseas whom the U.S. government had probably targeted for surveillance.[5] The challenge was brought against James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.


The Court dismissed the case by following the US government's argument that "the claims of the challenges that they were likely to be targets of surveillance were based too much on speculation and on a predicted chain of events that might never occur, so they could not satisfy the constitutional requirement for being allowed to sue."[6] "Respondents cannot manufacture standing merely by inflicting harm on themselves based on their fears of hypothetical future harm that is not certainly impending," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.[7]

Justice Breyer, in dissent, said that the case should have proceeded to trial. Of the spying, he wrote: “Indeed it is as likely to take place as are most future events that commonsense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen.”[8]


According to Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs before the Supreme Court, the challenged amendments made in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act essentially allow the National Security Agency (NSA) "to engage in dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications", even those "who might not be suspected at all of having done anything wrong," so that "it’s a very broad surveillance statute", "arguably broader than any surveillance statute that Congress has sanctioned in the past."[9] According to him, the Supreme Court, by requiring the plaintiffs to show that they, themselves, have been monitored under the law, has essentially created a barrier to judicial review preventing anyone from ever challenging this kind of statute in court as, indeed, nobody can show that they have been monitored under the law since the government is not disclosing its targets.[9]

Following the decision in favor of the government, several legal experts expressed that "Clapper also hints at a rocky reception for the challenge to the NDAA in Hedges."[5][10]


Before the process, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. denied that ruling in the U.S. government's favor would immunize the surveillance program from constitutional challenges. “That contention is misplaced,” Verrilli wrote in a brief. “Others may be able to establish standing even if respondents cannot. As respondents recognize, the government must provide advance notice of its intent to use information obtained or derived from” the surveillance authorized by the 2008 law “against a person in judicial or administrative proceedings and that person may challenge the underlying surveillance.”[11][12] Specifically Verrilli unequivocally assured the Supreme Court in its brief,[13] that criminal defendants would receive notice of FAA surveillance and an opportunity to challenge the statute:

If the government intends to use or disclose any information obtained or derived from its acquisition of a person's communications under [the FAA] in judicial or administrative proceedings against that person, it must provide advance notice of its intent to the tribunal and the person, whether or not the person was targeted for surveillance under [the FAA].[14]

The USCC then took Verrilli assurance and ruled in accordance with the FAA §1881a according to which criminal defendants who are prosecuted using evidence obtained or derived from FAA surveillance are entitled to notice:[15]

If the Government intends to use or disclose information obtained or derived from a §1881a acquisition in judicial or administrative proceedings, it must provide advance notice of its intent, and the affected person may challenge the lawfulness of the acquisition.[11][16]

The opposite of what Verrilli told the Supreme Court happened since then in actual criminal prosecutions. Federal prosecutors, apparently unaware of his representations, have refused to make the promised disclosures. In a prosecution in Federal District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., against two brothers accused of plotting to bomb targets in New York, the government has said it plans to use information gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, which authorized individual warrants.[8][17] But prosecutors have refused to say whether the government obtained those individual warrants based on information derived from the 2008 law, which allows programmatic surveillance.[11][18] Prosecutors in Chicago have taken the same approach in a prosecution of teenager accused of plotting to blow up a bar.[17][19]

While both the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act[19] and the FISA Amendments Act[15] requires the government to notify defendants when evidence being used against them is derived from surveillance authorized by the corresponding law, there is a crucial difference between both laws with respect to warrants. A traditional FISA court order pursuant to the original, unamendend Act requires the government to go to a FISA judge and show probable cause that the target is an agent of a foreign power.[19] Under the expanded surveillance program authorized in 2008 the FAA however targets non-U.S. persons “reasonably believed” to be located outside the United States and does not require that the government obtain individual warrants before intercepting communications.[19] Moreover, the purpose of the collection is “foreign intelligence,” a broad category that may include everything from information on terrorism to nuclear proliferation to what a European journalist is writing on human rights abuses or an African businessman is saying about global financial risk.[19] In essence the FAA law authorized the government to wiretap Americans’ e-mails and phone calls without an individual court order and on domestic soil so long as the surveillance is “targeted” at a foreigner abroad.[20] Judge John O'Sullivan explained it this way in the Florida case:

Before passage of the FAA in 2008, FISA generally foreclosed the government from engaging in "electronic surveillance" without first obtaining an individualized and particularized order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ("FISC"). To obtain an order from the FISC, the government had to satisfy certain requirements including that a "significant purpose" of the surveillance was to obtain "foreign intelligence information. 50 U.S.C. § 1805(a)(2)(B).
When FISA was amended in 2008, the FAA provided legislative authority for the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens' and residents' communications. Although the FAA left FISA intact regarding communications known to be purely domestic, the FAA expanded FISA by allowing the mass acquisition of U.S. citizens' and residents' international communications without individualized judicial oversight or supervision. See Clapper v. Amnesty Intl USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138, 1143-44 (2013). Under the FAA, the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence ("DNI") may "authorize jointly, for a period of up to one year ... the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information." 50 U.S.C. § 1881(a).[21]

Verrilli had told the Supreme Court justices that somebody would have legal standing to trigger review of the program because prosecutors would notify people facing evidence derived from surveillance under the 2008 FISA Amendments law. But it turned out that Verrilli's assurances clashed with the actual practices of national security prosecutors, who had not been alerting such defendants that evidence in their cases had stemmed from wiretapping their conversations without a warrant. For Verrilli, this led to the question of whether any persuasive legal basis exists for failing to clearly notify defendants that they faced evidence linked to the 2008 warrantless surveillance law, thereby preventing them from knowing that they had an opportunity to argue that it derived from an unconstitutional search.[12] After internal deliberations, in which Verrilli argued that there was no legal basis to conceal from defendants that evidence derived from legally untested surveillance, preventing them from knowing they had an opportunity to challenge it,[20] the U.S. Justice Department concluded “that withholding disclosure from defendants could not be justified legally.”[22] As a consequence of this the Justice Department is, as of October 2013, setting up a potential Supreme Court test of whether it is constitutional, by notifying a criminal defendant — for the first time — that evidence against him was derived from eavesdropping that was authorized under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.[12][23] The first defendant who received notice that he had been monitored under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) was Jamshid Muhtorov on October 25, 2013.[20][24][25] According to the New York Times the move is expected to set up a Supreme Court test of whether eavesdropping from a warrantless wiretap is constitutional.[20]

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the Soilicitor General Verrilli for providing criminal defendants who are prosecuted using evidence obtained or derived from FAA surveillance and are entitled to notice that this evidence was acquired under the FISA Amendments Act with such statutorily required notice required under the FISA Amendments Act.[22] This gives defendants the opportunity to move to suppress FAA-derived evidence and to right to challenge the warrantless wiretapping law, and trial courts the opportunity to adjudicate the FAA's constitutionality.[20][22] Despite its praise, the ACLU urged Verrilli "should now submit a letter-brief alerting the [Supreme] Court to the significant factual error in the government’s submissions. His letter should explain what the NSD's [National Security Division of the U.S. Justice Department] notice policy was when Clapper was before the courts; on what basis the NSD came to the conclusion that the policy was justified; how it came to pass that the government misrepresented the NSD’s policy; and what the NSD’s notice policy is now."[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Section 702: Title VII, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), "Procedures for Targeting Certain Persons Outside the United States Other Than United States Persons" (50 U.S.C. sec. 1881a)" (PDF). Federation of American Scientists. Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  2. ^ Liptak, Adam (6 March 2013). "Justices Turn Back Challenge to Broader U.S. Eavesdropping". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  3. ^ Sledge, Matt (26 February 2013). "Clapper v. Amnesty International, Warrantless Wiretapping Challenge, Struck Down By Supreme Court". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  4. ^ Leonard, Barbara (26 February 2013). "U.S. Warrantless Spying Program Survives Challenge in Supreme Court". Courthouse News Service. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Wittes, Benjamin (February 27, 2013). "Peter Margulies on Clapper". 'Lawfare' Blog. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  6. ^ Denniston, Lyle (26 February 2013). "Opinion recap: Global wiretap challenge thwarted". SCOTUSBlog. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  7. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (11 June 2013). "ACLU sues four top Obama administration officials over Verizon metadata sharing". Ars Technica. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  8. ^ a b Kravets, David (13 May 2013). "Feds Won't Say if NSA Surveilled New York Terror Suspects". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  9. ^ a b "ACLU Blasts Supreme Court Rejection of Challenge to Warrantless Spying Without Proof of Surveillance". Democracy Now!. February 27, 2013. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  10. ^ Sledge, Matt (27 February 2013). "Supreme Court's Clapper v. Amnesty International Decision Could Affect Indefinite Detention Lawsuit". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  11. ^ a b c Liptak, Dama (13 July 2013). "A Secret Surveillance Program Proves Challengeable in Theory Only". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  12. ^ a b c Savage, Charlie (16 October 2013). "Door May Open for Challenge to Secret Wiretaps". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  13. ^ Verrilli Jr., Donald B. (July 2012). "No. 11-1025 In the Supreme Court of the United States James R. Clapper, Jr., Director of National Intelligence, et al., Petitioners v. Amnesty Internal USA, et. Al on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Brief for the Petitioner" (PDF). Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). p. 8. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  14. ^ Toomey, Patrick C. (25 June 2013). "Government Engages In Shell Game To Avoid Review Of Warrantless Wiretapping". Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  15. ^ a b See 50 U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 188le(a)
  16. ^ Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, No. 11-1025, slip op. at 22, 568 U.S._ (Feb. 26, 2013) (citing 50 U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1806(e), 1881e(a))
  17. ^ a b Eric Schmitt, David E. Sanger and Charlie Savage (7 June 2013). "Administration Says Mining of Data Is Crucial to Fight Terror". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  18. ^ Barrett, Devlin (31 July 2013). "U.S. Spy Program Lifts Veil in Court". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  19. ^ a b c d e Nakashima, Ellen (22 June 2013). "Chicago federal court case raises questions about NSA surveillance". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  20. ^ a b c d e Savage, Charlie (26 October 2013). "Federal Prosecutors, in a Policy Shift, Cite Warrantless Wiretaps as Evidence". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  21. ^ O'Sullivan, John (6 May 2013). "United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida Case No. 12-60298-CR-SCOLA/O'SULLIVAN: Document 77 entered on FLSD Docket 05/06/2013 in United States of America (Plaintiff) v. Raees Alam Qazi a/k/a "Shan," and Sheheryar Alam Qazi (Defendants )" (PDF). Wired Magazine. pp. 2–3. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  22. ^ a b c d "The Solicitor General Should Correct the Record in Clapper". Jameel Jaffer and Patrick C. Toomey. Just Security - A Forum on Law, Rights, and U.S. National Security. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  23. ^ Toomey, Patrick C. (18 October 2013). "In Reversal, DOJ Poised to Give Notice of Warrantless Wiretapping". American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  24. ^ Savage, Charlie (25 October 2013). "United States District Court for the District of Colorado Criminal Case No. 1:12-cr-00033-JLK-01: Document 457 filed 10/25/13 in United States of America (Plaintiff) v. Jamshid Muhtorov (Defendants)". DocumentCloud. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  25. ^ Toomey, Patrick C. (5 February 2014). "Who Did the NSA's Illegal Spying Put in Jail?". The American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 13 February 2014.

Further readingEdit

  • Chin, Courtney (2015). "Standing Still: The Implications of Clapper for Environmental Plaintiffs' Constitutional Standing" (PDF). Columbia Journal of Environmental Law. 40 (2): 323–358.
  • Rinehart, Liz Clark (2014). "Clapper v. Amnesty International USA: Allowing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to Turn 'Incidentally' into 'Certainly'". Maryland Law Review. 73 (3). SSRN 2431740.

External linksEdit

  • Text of Clapper v. Amnesty International, 568 U.S. 398 (2013) is available from: CourtListener  Google Scholar  Oyez (oral argument audio)  Supreme Court (slip opinion) 
  • Coverage on SCOTUSblog