A coalition of organizations led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the National Security Agency over allegedly “unconstitutional” mass surveillance programs.
“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,” EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in an advisory. “Who we call, how often we call them, and how long we speak shows the government what groups we belong to or associate with, which political issues concern us, and our religious affiliation. Exposing this information – especially in a massive, untargeted way over a long period of time – violates the Constitution and the basic First Amendment tests that have been in place for over 50 years.”
The group organized by the EFF includes the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Free Press, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, Media Alliance, NORML, the Open Technology Institute, People for the American Way, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Public Knowledge and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The suit was officially filed on behalf of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles (FUCLA), which for decades has made social justice issues the congregation’s highest priority.
“The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles has a proud history of working for justice and protecting people in jeopardy for expressing their political views,” FUCLA Rev. Rick Hoyt said in an advisory. “In the 1950s, we resisted the McCarthy hysteria and supported blacklisted Hollywood writers and actors, and we fought California’s ‘loyalty oaths’ all the way to the Supreme Court. And in the 1980s, we gave sanctuary to refugees from civil wars in Central America. The principles of our faith often require our church to take bold stands on controversial issues.”
The lawsuit came just one day before lawmakers of both parties expressed deep skepticism of the NSA’s programs, recently exposed in great detail by NSA employee-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“You’ve already violated the law as far as I’m concerned,” Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) told Obama administration officials during the House Judiciary Committee hearing, according to USA Today. “I feel very uncomfortable about using aggregated metadata on hundreds of millions of Americans — everybody, including members of Congress, and every citizen who has a phone in the U.S. This is unsustainable, it’s outrageous, and must be stopped immediately.”
Even Republicans members expressed significant reservations about the programs on Wednesday, despite the party’s prior emphasis of these powers when the Bush administration was still in power.
“It’s got to be changed,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) commanded, warning that the NSA’s actions could prompt Congress to alter key provisions in the Patriot Act which confer broad spying powers. “And you’ve got to change how you operate [the Patriot Act’s Section 215]… or you’re not going to have it anymore.”
[“Stock photo: Woman with spyglass examines a computer,” via Shutterstock.]