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Congress and courts weigh restraints on NSA spying

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an unusual challenge to a National Security Agency program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans, as congressional critics of the data collection stepped up efforts to force more disclosure about the scope of the surveillance.

The intensifying push against the NSA on both the legal and legislative fronts reflected new pressure being put on the extensive surveillance effort in the wake of the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, pressure that is running into stiff resistance from congressional leaders of both parties, as well as the Obama administration.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the challenge directly with the Supreme Court, arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had “exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation.”

The justices gave no reason for rejecting the group’s petition, but the unusual procedure of bypassing the lower courts probably played a role. Other, more conventional challenges to government surveillance programs are pending.

In urging the justices not to hear the case, the federal government said “the proper way” to mount a challenge “is to file an action in Federal District Court to enjoin the program, as other parties have done.” It cautioned, though, that “the government may assert certain threshold defenses to such a suit.” The case is In re Electronic Privacy Information Center, No. 13-58.

—Adam Liptak and Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times

Europeans fault American safety effort in Bangladesh

Tensions broke into the open Monday involving two large groups of retailers — one overwhelmingly American, the other dominated by Europeans — that have formed to improve factory safety in Bangladesh.

An official from the European group voiced concern that the U.S. retailers would piggyback at no cost on the efforts of the Europeans — which includes H&M, Carrefour and more than 100 other retailers — in financing safety upgrades at hundreds of factories. The members of the European-led group, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, have made binding commitments to help pay for fire safety measures and building upgrades when shortcomings in safety are found in the more than 1,600 garment factories its members use in Bangladesh. While the U.S.-dominated group, which has 26 members, including Wal-Mart Stores, Target and Gap, has stopped short of making such a binding commitment, it has pledged to provide loans for the improvements.

Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights group based in Washington that is a member of the Europe-led accord, said members had a ‘’significant concern about a free-rider situation.’’

Jeff R. Krilla, president of the U.S.-dominated group, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, said he was surprised by the criticism, noting that his alliance had agreed to make $100 million in low-cost loans available to Bangladesh factory owners to finance safety improvements.

In a sharp exchange in a telephone conference call on worker safety in Bangladesh that was organized by the Boston Global Forum, a nonprofit research organization, Krilla said his group’s members were making a significant financial commitment to improving safety, including a total of $50 million over five years in contributions by retailers in the alliance. The two groups, founded after the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed in April, killing more than 1,100 workers, are just beginning factory inspections. Despite the friction, they have been working closely together to develop joint inspection standards on fire and building safety.

—Steven Greenhouse, The New York Times