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Former Pittsburgh attorney can proceed with lawsuit over fed communications monitoring, court rules

| Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, 3:27 p.m.

A former Pittsburgh attorney can take another step forward on his lawsuit claiming that the federal government is illegally monitoring his and other people's communications, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit by attorney Elliott Schuchardt challenging the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program.

“On one hand, it's a huge victory because it's been reinstated and remanded,” said Schuchardt, who was located in Downtown when he originally filed the suit but is now located in Knoxville, Tenn.

The appellate court ruling, however, limits his ability to subpoena evidence and depose witnesses, apparently exempting anything with a national security classification.

“If that's the case, I'm not sure how much further the case can go because obviously, this entire area is classified,” said Schuchardt, who is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court on that part of the decision.

Schuchardt is seeking an injunction to halt the practice as unconstitutional.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined comment.

Schuchardt in June 2014 sued the president, his director of national intelligence and the heads of the FBI and the National Security Agency. He claimed that their wholesale, warrantless collection of Internet and phone communication data had to have included his personal communications.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon dismissed his lawsuit in September 2015, ruling that Schuchardt failed to show that the government has collected any of his emails and, therefore, lacked standing to sue the government.

The 3rd Circuit ruled that Schuchardt had presented enough evidence to show that he could be affected by the NSA's program since he uses Google and Yahoo, both of which have been publicly identified as cooperating with the NSA.

The appellate court overturned Bissoon's decision and sent the lawsuit back for further proceedings.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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