A federal appeals court in Seattle hears arguments Monday in a challenge to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) practice of gathering phone records of millions of people not suspected of crimes. North Idaho lawyer Peter Smith will be arguing for the plaintiff, who is his wife.
Coeur d’Alene nurse Anna Smith, along with husband Peter, and friend Luke Malek - both lawyers - sued the federal government in 2013 after the news that the NSA was gathering phone records of Verizon customers. Malek - also an Idaho lawmaker - says they filed the suit because they conduct much of their professional and personal lives on their phones and deserve privacy.
“We carry much of our life on our cell phones,” Malek says. “We don’t want to open the door and say ‘anybody we call and how long we talk to them and anyone who calls us is fair game for the government.’”
The suit was rejected by district judge B. Lynn Winmill earlier this year, but Malek doesn’t see that as a loss.
“When judge Winmill rejected this he said, ‘I do think the current state of case law should be changed. [But] I don’t have the authority to change the current state of law,’” Malek says.
He hopes the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will determine it has that authority. But Malek says he hopes the case will eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ACLU and the digital liberty advocate Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) joined Malek and the Smiths after their case lost in U.S. District Court. An EFF lawyer says the organization saw this case as unique because, among the handful of similar lawsuits working through the courts, it is the only one launched by ordinary people, not established activists. Malek agrees.
“It’s a testament to the power of our system in terms of empowering the people, because there’s nothing special about Peter and I, and nothing special about Anna,” he says. “But we decided we wanted to make a stand and here we are making a stand before the 9th Circuit.”
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