NEW YORK (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union sued the federal government on Thursday seeking documents on what it calls an unconstitutional law that gives the executive branch power to collect Americans’ international e-mails and phone records without a warrant or suspicion of wrongdoing.
The lawsuit, which challenges the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, was filed in Federal Court against the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, the National Security Agency and the Defense Department.
The ACLU wants access to records concerning how the spying law is being used, how many Americans are affected and what safeguards are in place to prevent abuse.
“News reports suggest that the government has used its FAA powers to collect U.S. citizens’ and residents’ international communications by the millions and has used the FAA improperly to collect purely domestic communications,” the 29-page lawsuit states.
Under the temporary law, which expires in 2012, the attorney general, the director of National Intelligence and the Inspectors General are required to produce periodic reports that assess the “interception, analysis and dissemination of U.S. citizens’ and residents’ communications under the law.”
But the ACLU says at least six months have elapsed since it filed FOIA requests for those reports. The government has not released any records requested by the ACLU on the matter, according to the complaint.
“The records plaintiffs seek are urgently needed to fill an informational void about a topic of widespread public concern and to inform the ongoing national and congressional debate about the government’s electronic surveillance powers,” the lawsuit states. “Congress intentionally made this controversial law temporary so that it – and the public — could evaluate whether the radical changes … wrought to the government’s electronic spying regime were wise, necessary, working effectively in practice, and sufficiently protective of U.S. citizens’ and residents’ privacy rights.”
Congress is set to debate the issue over the next year and a half, the lawsuit states.
“Despite being in operation for nearly two years, the American public is largely in the dark about how the controversial FISA Amendments Act has been implemented in practice,” ACLU staff attorney Melissa Goodman said in a statement. “The public has a right to know how the government is using, and possibly abusing, an intrusive surveillance power that implicates the privacy and speech rights of all U.S. citizens and residents.”
The ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in 2008 to stop the government from conducting surveillance under the law. The case was dismissed on the grounds that plaintiffs could not challenge the law because they couldn’t show that they were spied on. The civil liberties groups appealed.
The lawsuit was filed by Goodman and Jameel Jaffer with the ACLU.