The American Civil Liberties Union said in its lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, the CIA, National Security Agency, Justice Department, Defense Department and State Department have all but ignored a Freedom of Information Act request the non-partisan, non-profit group made in May and followed up on over successive months.
The FBI, Defense Department's Defense Intelligence Agency, the Justice Department's National Security Division and the State Department "have acknowledged receipt of the FOIA request and indicated its placement in their FOIA processing queues, but have provided no substantive response to date," the lawsuit states.
The NSA provided four documents that were already publicly available and didn't directly address the FOIA request, and the CIA said it wouldn't comply with the request, citing an "unreasonably burdensome search," says the lawsuit, which the ACLU filed with Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.
The FOIA request and lawsuit seek to know what constitutional protections Americans' international communications have under a several-times-modified December 1981 executive order signed by President Ronald Reagan that is frequently used by the Obama administration to justify NSA actions.
Executive Order 12,333 lets Washington target foreigners abroad for surveillance, but "recent revelations have confirmed that the government interprets that authority to permit sweeping monitoring of Americans' international communications," says the lawsuit, which can be found at tinyurl.com/UPI-ACLU-lawsuit.
"How the government conducts this surveillance, and whether it appropriately accommodates the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents whose communications are intercepted in the course of that surveillance, are matters of great public significance and concern," the lawsuit says.
While domestic surveillance is governed by 1978's Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, "EO 12,333 appears to be the sole authority for and limitation on government surveillance abroad that targets foreigners," the lawsuit says.
"Unlike surveillance conducted pursuant to FISA, surveillance undertaken solely pursuant to EO 12,333 is not overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."
ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo said in a statement: "We now know too well that unchecked surveillance authority can lead to dangerous overreach. That's why we are fighting for the release of documents that would shed light on the internal rules that the executive has set for itself when it monitors international communications abroad -- including Americans' international communications."
The Justice Department, which will defend the government in the lawsuit, had no immediate comment.