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ACLU challenges NSA phone surveillance program

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] on Tuesday brought a lawsuit [press release] asking a federal appeals court to review a National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] phone data surveillance program. The motion filed by the ACLU state stated that "today the government is continuing - after a brief suspension - to collect Americans’ call records in bulk on the purported authority of precisely the same statutory language this court has already concluded does not permit it." The ACLU's major argument in support of the requested injunction is that although the Freedom Act [backgrounder] is in the middle of a transition period, the underlying law allowing for bulk surveillance includes the same Patriot Act [text, PDF] provisions that the second circuit held do not warrant the NSA's phone-records collection activities. The same activities that Edward Snowden [BBC profile] had exposed. The ACLU goes on to say that “there is no sound reason to accord this language a different meaning now than the court accorded it in May. [The Patriot Act] did not authorize bulk collection in May, and it does not authorize it now."

Despite the fact that US President Barack Obama [official website] and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counter-terrorism measure, several US lawmakers have also called for a review [JURIST report] of the government's surveillance activity in light of reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. In May the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Patriot Act does not authorize the NSA to collect millions of Americans' phone records. The scrutiny of government surveillance policies is due in large part to discoveries made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who allegedly leaked classified documents [JURIST backgrounder], including PRISM and UPSTREAM, in 2013, exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. As a result of Snowden's revelations, several human rights groups have taken legal action challenging the NSA. In March rights groups filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in federal court against the NSA alleging that one of the NSA's mass surveillance programs violates privacy rights and threatens free communication.

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