Court backs NSA on internet spying as Obama ducks call for reform

It’s been a lousy week so far for opponents of U.S. spy tactics: a federal judge shut down a long-running challenge to the NSA’s mass collection of customer internet data, while President Obama brushed off a call to do something about the sprawl of government surveillance.

The court case in question, Jewel v. NSA, involves a romance writer in California who argued that AT&T should have obtained a warrant before using a secret room to forward the internet traffic of its customers to intelligence agencies. The case, filed in 2008, was one of the first to challenge the U.S. collection of metadata, and shed light on the close collaboration between telco companies and the government — a collaboration that has gained considerably more attention in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks.

But on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that Carolyn Jewel and other plaintiffs had failed to show they had the requisite legal standing to challenge the order.

And in a double defeat for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others who saw the case as a tool for surveillance reform, Judge White added that the need to protect state secrets precluded him from ruling on the issue, even if Jewel has standing in the first place.

Meanwhile, President Obama appears to be reneging on his earlier pledges to rein in the controversial metadata collections program, which the Justice Department has said is necessary to protect Americans, but which critics say results in the government collecting too much data for too long.

The Obama dodge came during an interview with BuzzFeed this week, in which the President spoke at length about topics like same-sex marriage, Russia and Hillary Clinton. When it came to the topic of metadata, however, Obama was tight-lipped:

In response to a question of why he didn’t use his executive power to restrict the scope of surveillance with a “stroke of the pen,” Obama just said that it was an issue for Congress.

So all in all, this week’s developments did little to assuage those who fear we’re creating a surveillance state. Meanwhile, the EFF also filed a new legal challenge to the Justice Department’s use of planes to suck cell phone signals over U.S. cities. Time to break out the tinfoil hat?