Is Big Brother the New Normal? The Supreme Court Will Decide

In a less than reassuring twist, the U.S. government will argue that no one can sue to end one form of intelligence surveillance because nobody is safe from surveillance.


Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is plaintiff in the case.

Suppose Big Brother is watching you. You in particular, and all your friends — recording your phone conversations, reading your emails and instant messages — all with the aim of finding something to use against you and your friends.

As my students would say, sucks to be you. It sucks badly enough, in fact, that you might be able to go into federal court and ask a judge to make the government explain why they’re doing it, and maybe force them to get a warrant.

But suppose you find out that Big Brother is watching some other unnamed people. And those other people sound a lot like some of the people you sometimes work with. And if Big Brother really is watching those people, you need to watch what you say, or stop talking to those people altogether. But you don’t know for sure.

It still sucks to be you. But does it suck enough that you can go to court to try to stop it?

That is the issue that will be argued Monday in front of the Supreme Court. The case is called Clapper v. Amnesty International. The underlying question is an important one in post-9/11 America: How extensively can the government eavesdrop on phone calls and emails by foreigners of “interest” to our intelligence agencies? And how much can such government surveillance legally impact American citizens seeking to communicate with people our government may dislike or suspect of unsavory deeds?

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