Newly disclosed documents unveiling the close relationship between the National Security Agency and AT&T could breathe new life into a long-running legal dispute about the NSA’s controversial method of tapping the Internet backbone on U.S. soil.
This program, according to documents provided by Edward Snowden, is largely enabled by telecom giant AT&T, which filters Internet traffic, based on NSA instructions. AT&T then forwards the “take” to the spy agency’s storage facilities for further review and analysis.
But a single email traverses the Internet in hundreds of tiny slices, called “packets,’’ that travel separate routes. Grabbing even one email requires a computer search of many slices of other people’s messages.
Privacy advocates have long argued in court that grabbing portions of so many emails — involving people not suspected of anything — is a violation of the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures provided by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group, is now hoping that the new documents will bolster their claims in a long-running case, Jewel v. NSA. “We will be presenting this information to the court,” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the foundation. A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.