WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court justices were surprisingly skeptical Monday about arguments by a top Justice Department lawyer who in a hearing sought to squelch an anti-wiretapping lawsuit brought by lawyers, journalists and activists.

At issue in the surveillance case is the government's power to secretly monitor international phone calls and email under a stepped-up monitoring policy approved by Congress four years ago.

It allows U.S. spy agencies to target people or places overseas and to intercept all the phone calls and email to and from these people or places.

Almost inevitably, this means American lawyers or activists who speak with clients and contacts in places such as Afghanistan or Pakistan will have their messages overheard, and it was those lawyers and activists who filed suit.