Conor Friedersdorf
The Atlantic
May 1, 2014


A secret opinion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court recently released to the public is a reminder that the NSA is still conducting mass surveillance on millions of Americans, even if that fact has faded from the headlines. This would seem to violate the Fourth Amendment if you read its plain text. So how is it that FISA-court judges keep signing off on these sweeping orders?

They base their rulings on Smith v. Maryland, a case the Supreme Court decided decades ago. Before we examine the glaring flaw in the jurisprudence of the FISA-court judges applying it to mass surveillance, here’s a brief refresher on that case.

Smith began with a 1976 house robbery. After the break-in, the victim started getting obscene phone calls from a man identifying himself as the robber.

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