Rights groups challenge NSA surveillance

Rights groups challenge NSA surveillance

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[JURIST] 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.