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Colo. Man Files First Challenge To Surveillance Law

A Colorado man has filed the first direct challenge to the FISA Amendments Act, claiming that the law allowing the government to collect vast amounts of data from the international communications of U.S. citizens in bulk is unconstitutional.

Jamshid Muhtorov, who is accused of providing material support to a resistance group known as the Islamic Jihad Union, was notified by authorities that some of his communications were monitored secretly using the FISA Amendments Act.

Muhtorov is now asking the United States District Court for the District of Colorado to throw out any evidence that was obtained or was derived from the secret surveillance program.

Muhtorov's case is being championed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado.

"The FISA Amendments Act affords the government virtually unfettered access to the international phone calls and emails of U.S. citizens and residents," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement. "We've learned over the last few months that the NSA has implemented the law in the broadest possible way, and that the rules that supposedly protect the privacy of innocent people are weak and riddled with exceptions. Surveillance conducted under this statute is unconstitutional, and the fruits of this surveillance must be suppressed."

As NPR's Carrie Johnson has reported, back in October the Obama administration decided it would tell some criminal defendants that some evidence used in their cases was obtained through the secret surveillance programs.

Previously, anytime the law was challenged in court, the suits were tossed because the plaintiffs could not prove that they had been spied on.

That happened to an ACLU case in February. But, now, with Muhtorov that hurdle is off the table and it could mean that a court — perhaps even the Supreme Court — could weigh the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act.

Carrie tells us this is the first attack on the law filed since the Edward Snowden leaks and the first lawsuit filed since the government began making disclosures.

"But it may not be the last," Carrie says. "Other defendants in Portland and Chicago have signaled they too may sue."

Carrie has reported on the Portland case. Earlier this month, lawyers for Mohamed Osman Mohamud asked a judge to order the Justice Department to share more information about the secret electronic surveillance used in his case.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.