Civil rights group challenges NSA phone surveillance program

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski
An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

The American Civil Liberties Union sued senior U.S. government officials on Tuesday to strike down the National Security Agency’s broad telephone surveillance, a challenge that may have improved chances of succeeding as a result of recent leaks about the program.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York claims the U.S. government’s collection of vast communications records violates rights to free speech and privacy as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The suit was filed amid a furor over leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who disclosed a massive government program to collect and store phone and Internet records from major telecommunications companies.

Legal experts said the leaks could help the ACLU to succeed where a previous suit involving Amnesty International failed.

After news stories from Snowden’s leaks appeared in the Guardian of Britain and the Washington Post, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper declassified some details of the program, acknowledging it existed.

In Amnesty’s challenge to the surveillance program, the U.S. Supreme Court in February ruled 5-4 in favor of the government in part because it said the plaintiffs could not prove their phones had been tapped.

“Because the government has told us all that it is collecting the metadata, then that (Supreme Court reasoning) goes away,” said Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri.

John Mahoney, a partner at the Washington law firm Tully Rickney, agreed that Clapper’s acknowledgement of the program last week had opened the door to a legal challenge.

“This suit has got legs because I do think this (surveillance) program might be overbroad constitutionally,” Mahoney said. “I’m all for national security and I do national security law for a living, but to just broadly capture every phone call and every Internet message by every citizen of the United State seems a bit much.”

The U.S. Justice Department declined to immediately comment on the suit, saying it needed time to review it and respond.

BALANCE BETWEEN PRIVACY AND SECURITY

President Barack Obama has defended the sweeping government surveillance of Americans’ phone and Internet activity, calling it a “modest encroachment” on privacy that was necessary to defend the United States from attack.

However, Obama also said he welcomed public debate on the balance between privacy and security.

“The president has said he welcomes a public debate. It would be odd to say that and then expect a state secret privilege,” said Jameel Jaffer, one of the ACLU lawyers on the suit.

The rights group asked the court to immediately halt the NSA’s vast tracking program of telephone calls, declare the program illegal, and order the government to purge all databases of the call records.

The government “vacuums up information about every phone call placed within, from, or to the United States,” the ACLU said, arguing that it violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The suit cited the government’s acknowledgement that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court required Verizon Business Network Services to turn over metadata about the calls made by each of its subscribers over a three-month period as a continuation of a program that members of Congress said has been in place for seven years.

As a Verizon subscriber, the ACLU named itself as a plaintiff, saying the government’s secret monitoring program was “likely to have a chilling effect on whistleblowers and others who would otherwise contact plaintiffs for legal assistance.”

The ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and both of their foundations were named as plaintiffs.

 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Federal mediator joins Met Opera labor talks as…

Unions representing the orchestra and chorus of the Met Opera agreed to have a federal mediator join labor talks on Thursday as a threatened lockout loomed.

Local

Winning $7 million New York lottery ticket sold…

The only $7 million winning New York Lottery ticket for Monday's Cash4Life drawing was sold at a Queens 7-Eleven, officials said on Tuesday.

Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

Movies

Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a refreshingly…

Marvel is sitting so high on a cash mountain that it's now thrown $170 million at the relatively obscure and very silly title "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Movies

Review: 'Get on Up' is a war between…

James Brown finally gets his own boring biopic with "Get on Up," but the Godfather of Soul puts up a good fight against the usual cliches.

Movies

Review: 'Child of God' finds director James Franco…

James Franco's 11th directed feature is a noble but sloppy adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God," about a feral mountain man (Scott Haze).

Movies

Review: Alex Gibney's Fela Kuti doc 'Finding Fela'…

Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney takes on Afrobeat god Fela Kuti in "Finding Fela," but fails to capture his unique essence.

MLB

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade…

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade deadline

College

Playing the Field: Valentine's Day coupling edition

  It’s Valentine’s Day, a day created by Hallmark to make couples spend loads and loads of money on candy, flowers and gourmet dinners. Or…

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

Career

What do you wear to a career fair?…

Getting that gig starts with presenting the most polished and memorable version of yourself, so refer to our expert fashion advice.

Style

Editors pick: Margiela's finger armor ring

These cool rings from Maison Martin Margiela are designed to overlap over the finger, covering each joint like armor.

Style

Givenchy champions diversity

Riccardo Tisci's uses a variety of ethnically diverse ladies for his spring campaign including Erykah Badu.

Wellbeing

Don't settle for the hotel fitness center with…

Travelers who want to skip the hotel fitness center in favor of local gyms that may offer better equipment, classes and amenities can turn to…