A coalition of nineteen disparate groups, being represented by digital rights organisation the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is suing the National Security Agency (NSA) over the alleged “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet surveillance.” The coalition of concerned groups has filed suit for “violating their First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting their call records.”
The coalition includes such disparate organizations as the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, TechFreedom, CalGuns Foundation, the Council of American Islamic Relations, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and other political advocacy organizations.
The suit has been sparked by recent revelations that the secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court made telecommunications companies AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint supply the NSA with copious customer data.
Highlighting the dangers of such actions by secret courts and intelligence agencies, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out that when a government has access to people’s private communication records for years, it produces “a chilling effect on your willingness to participate in political discourse and join political groups,” which is of course fundamental to the workings of a healthy democratic society.
The suit maintains that the mass collection of this data was not relevant to an existing authorized criminal investigation, or an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism. The plaintiffs allege that there are violations to the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this case goes. The EFF has substantial experience in cases of this nature, including an ongoing attempt started in 2008 to sue the NSA over the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Just last week the federal court rejected another of the government’s ongoing attempts to dismiss the suit. That case is set to continue.