[JURIST] Rights groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] in the US District Court for the District of Maryland [official website] against the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] alleging that one of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs violates privacy rights and threatens free communication. The plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Wikimedia, are challenging the NSA’s UPSTREAM program, contending that by directly seizing a mass amount of American communications while they are in transit and searching “substantially all international text-based communications,” the NSA exceeds the scope of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) [text, PDF] and violates both the First and Fourth [texts] Amendments to the US Constitution. The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief.
The focus on government surveillance policies comes largely as a result of revelations [JURIST backgrounder] by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], who allegedly leaked classified documents, including PRISM and UPSTREAM, in 2013, exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. One of the first challenges to NSA activities came in June 2013, when the ACLU filed suit [JURIST report] in federal court just days after Snowden claimed responsibility for the leaks. As the outcry over the revelations began to expand in scope and severity, several other human rights groups decided to sue as well. The following month both the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center [advocacy websites] filed suit alleging [JURIST report] similar claims on the behalf of a coalition of 19 separate organizations. In February a US District Court dismissed [JURIST report] a challenge to NSA warrantless surveillance. Also in February the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) ruled [JURIST report] that the UK’s mass surveillance of citizens’ Internet use violates human rights law. In July civil liberties groups sued [JURIST report] the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service [official website] known as MI6, alleging that the agency accesses data from undersea cables in violation of the rights to private life and freedom of expression.