NSA Phone 'Dragnet' Called Unconstitutional
(CN) - The government's "dragnet" collection of phone records for a secret surveillance program "is akin to snatching every American's address book," the American Civil Liberties Union claims Tuesday in a federal lawsuit against top officials.
"It gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations," the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union claim in Manhattan Federal Court.
The groups filed suit following the leak of a secret court order, published by the Guardian on June 5, forcing Verizon to "turn over, every day, metadata about the calls made by each of its subscribers over the three-month period ending on July 19, 2013."
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, 29, has identified himself as the source who leaked documents about the government's surveillance programs to the Guardian and The Washington Post.
Snowden also divulged the existence of PRISM, a top-secret electronic surveillance program that gives the NSA access to the servers of several major tech companies, including Google, Apple and Facebook. (Those three tech giants deny having knowingly participated in PRISM.)
National Intelligence Director James Clapper officially acknowledged the Verizon order on June 6, saying the NSA only collects phone numbers and the length of calls, according to the lawsuit.
President Barack Obama (nonparty) also acknowledged "that the intelligence community is tracking phone numbers and the duration of calls," the ACLU and NYCLU say.
"Members of congressional committees have confirmed that the order issued to [Verizon] was but a single, three-month order in a much broader, seven-year program that the government has relied upon to collect the telephone records of all Americans," the lawsuit states.
"News reports since the disclosure of the [Verizon] order indicate that the mass acquisition of Americans' call details extends beyond customers of [Verizon], encompassing all wireless and landline subscribers of the country's three largest phone companies.
"The practice is akin to snatching every American's address book - with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where," the groups claim.
As current and former Verizon customers, the ACLU and the NYCLU say the data gleaned by the government "could readily be used to identify those who contact plaintiffs for legal assistance or to report human-rights or civil-liberties violations, as well as those whom plaintiffs contact in connection with their work."
The advocacy groups say the surveillance program violates the First and Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and "is likely to have a chilling effect" on members, employees, clients, journalists, legislators and others who would otherwise contact them.
They seek a declaration that the program is unconstitutional and orders barring the government from continuing the mass call tracking and forcing it to purge any call records already collected.
The groups are represented by Jameel Jaffer with the ACLU Foundation.
Defendants are National Intelligence Director James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Defense Secretary Charles Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller III.
Plaintiffs include the ACLU Foundation and the NYCLU Foundation.