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Rights groups challenge NSA surveillance

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) [advocacy website] on Tuesday filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] against the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website]. The lawsuit seeks an injunction [AP report] against the NSA, Justice Department, FBI and directors of the agencies for allegedly violating plaintiffs' First Amendment [text] right of association, as well as their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, by illegally collecting various call records. The EFF filed the lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of 19 organizations, including Unitarian church groups and gun ownership advocates. EFF legal director Cindy Cohn stated [press release], "The First Amendment protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group, but the NSA's mass, untargeted collection of Americans' phone records violates that right by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties."

The revelations surrounding the NSA's surveillance programs have sparked recent worldwide debate and controversy. Last week a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California rejected a motion to dismiss a putative class action lawsuit that was filed by the EFF in 2008. The lawsuit alleged [JURIST report] that the NSA illegally surveilled "millions of ordinary Americans" after 9/11 [JURIST backgrounder]. In July the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed an emergency petition [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court challenging the NSA's telephone record surveillance program. In June the Guardian reported [JURIST report] that the NSA had been collecting call data from Verizon customers under a secret court order. Also in June several US lawmakers requested [JURIST report] a review of the government's surveillance activity. This request came in light of reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring, as well as a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden [BBC profile], a former government contractor who came forward as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. The US government charged [JURIST report] Snowden with espionage for leaking top secret documents, according to a sealed criminal complaint filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In the same time frame, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA, challenging its recently revealed phone data collection.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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