Who Can Sue Over Government Surveillance?

UCLA Law Review, Vol. 57, p. 71, 2009

Posted: 1 Nov 2009

See all articles by Scott Michelman

Scott Michelman

ACLU of the District of Columbia; Harvard Law School

Date Written: October 1, 2009


The nature and scope of new government electronic surveillance programs in the aftermath of September 11 have presented acute constitutional questions about executive authority, the Fourth Amendment, and the separation of powers. But legal challenges to these new surveillance programs have been stymied — and decisions on the merits of core constitutional questions avoided — by court rulings that the challengers lack standing to sue under the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Laird v. Tatum. Last year, Congress amended the law governing foreign intelligence surveillance; the law has been challenged in court, and once again the issue of the challengers’ standing is at the heart of the case. In light of the fundamental civil liberties and separation of powers questions that remain unanswered, it is vital to identify who, if anyone, has standing to challenge government surveillance. Unfortunately, the law of standing in the surveillance context remains murky and in important respects appears out of line with the larger body of standing jurisprudence. In some cases, courts impose on surveillance plaintiffs a stricter test for probabilistic injuries than exists in the rest of standing law; in other cases, courts do not recognize as injuries the significant chilling effects a broad and secretive surveillance program can create. This Article argues that the divergent strands of jurisprudence interpreting Laird can be synthesized with general principles of standing law into a coherent and workable doctrine that will open the courthouse doors just wide enough to permit courts to adjudicate the crucial constitutional questions presented by new and emerging regimes of government surveillance.

Keywords: standing, surveillance, NSA, wiretapping, justiciability, constitution

Suggested Citation

Michelman, Scott, Who Can Sue Over Government Surveillance? (October 1, 2009). UCLA Law Review, Vol. 57, p. 71, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1498030

Scott Michelman (Contact Author)

ACLU of the District of Columbia ( email )

915 15th St NW 2nd Floor
Washington, DC District of Columbia 20005
United States

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics