Left and Right Unite to Sue NSA over Telephone Records Surveillance
When Barack Obama promised during the 2008 presidential campaign to unite Americans from both left and right, he surely did not intend to unite them in opposition to his policies, but that has certainly happened when it comes to his administration’s indiscriminate snooping on telephone records.
In addition to lawsuits previously filed by the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the right-leaning Freedom Watch (FW) against the NSA PRISM program, nineteen groups from across the political spectrum last Tuesday sued the NSA in federal court for its “Associational Tracking Program” dragnet collection of telephone records. In addition to the named plaintiff, First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, co-plaintiffs include two Unitarian groups, three pro-gun groups, three units of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, two drug-law reform groups, four open technology advocacy groups, and four human rights groups.
Calling the program first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden “an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance,” the complaint alleges that the snooping includes
“records indicating who each customer communicates with, at what time, for how long and with what frequency communications occur. This communications information discloses the expressive and private associational connections among individuals and group, including plaintiffs and their members and staff ... without a valid, particularized warrant supported by probable cause [and thus] violates the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as statutory prohibitions and limitations on electronic surveillance.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing the 19 plaintiffs, released a statement that “the NSA’s mass, untargeted collection of Americans’ phone records violates [the First Amendment] by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties. Who we call, how often we call them, and how long we speak shows the government what groups we belong to or associate with, which political issues concern us, and our religious affiliation. Exposing this information - especially in a massive, untargeted way over a long period of time - violates the Constitution and the basic First Amendment tests that have been in place for over 50 years.”
The government—which need not file an answer to the complaint for some time—has responded to similar suits with the contention that Americans have no constitutional privacy rights connected to their records with the phone company, hence the government’s collection of them cannot violate the Constitution.
To Learn More:
Bipartisan Backlash Grows Against Domestic Surveillance (by James Risen, New York Times)
Left and Right Come Together to Sue NSA for Phone Dragnet (by Jonny Bonner, Courthouse News Service)
NSA Phone Snooping Cannot Be Challenged in Court, Feds Say (by David Kravets, Wired)
First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA (Complaint) (pdf)
Unitarian Church, Gun Groups Join EFF to Sue NSA Over Illegal Surveillance (EFF press release)
Left and Right Sue Obama Administration over Indiscriminate Phone Spying (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
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