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

Girl, 10, dies after being pulled from water…

A 10-year-old girl died after being pulled from the waters off Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, police said.

News

NY judge throws out lawsuit by Empire State…

A New York state judge has thrown out a lawsuit in which longtime investors in the Empire State Building claimed they were shortchanged out of hundreds of millions of dollars…

Local

Mysterious white flags appear over Brooklyn Bridge

Two white flags mysteriously appeared over the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday in place of the American flags that are a traditional fixture.

National

Judge sets January start for murder trial of…

By Elizabeth BarberBOSTON (Reuters) - Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be tried in January for the murder of semi-professional football player Odin…

Television

'Pretty Little Liars' recap: Season 5, Episode 7,…

Drunk girls and ghost brownies: here’s your weekly ‘Pretty Little Liars’ recap by way of Q&A. Q: do they really not check for feet under…

Arts

Don't miss 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' at the…

Have you been meaning to see "Charles James: Beyond Fashion"? There are only two weeks left to get to the Met and catch this amazing American fashion designer's collection.

Television

Zac Posen talks 'Project Runway' and what it…

We talked to Zac Posen, judge and designer extraordinaire, about the new season of "Project Runway" and what keeps him coming back after three seasons.

Television

'Face Off' contestant David 'DOC' O'Connell sounds off…

David "DOC" O'Connell tells us about getting cast on Season 7 of Syfy's "Face Off," premiering tonight at 9.

NFL

David Tyree hiring has gay rights advocates angry

Former Giants Super Bowl hero David Tyree will re-join the franchise as its new director of player development.

NFL

Ben McAdoo's new offense has Giants excited to…

Even Tom Coughlin feels he has a lot to learn about offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new offense, which makes the veteran coach very excited.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead…

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead pack

NFL

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will…

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will win Super Bowl?

Tech

Learn Braille with these gloves

U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.