US government sued over NSA surveillance

Lawsuit filed in California federal court by diverse collection of groups, including gun ownership advocates.

    The suit targets the NSA's "Associational Tracking Program," which collects phone data from telecom firms  [AFP]
    The suit targets the NSA's "Associational Tracking Program," which collects phone data from telecom firms [AFP]

    A group of organisations represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in the United States has filed a suit against the National Security Agency for violating their right of association by illegally collecting their call records.

    Nineteen organisations sued the NSA on Tuesday - the first legal action against the spy agency since its surveillance programme was leaked by former employee Edward Snowden who is on the run and is seeking asylum in Russia.

    The coalition includes Unitarian church group, gun ownership advocates, and a broad coalition of membership and political advocacy groups.

    "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," Cindy Cohn, legal director for the EFF, said.

    "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."

    Years of litigating

    The EFF boasts years of experience fighting illegal government surveillance in the courts. The group has been litigating for years against warrantless wiretapping under former President George W Bush.

    The suit targets the NSA's "Associational Tracking Program," which collects phone information from all major American telecommunication companies, including time and duration of calls.

    A US Department of Justice spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Last week, a San Francisco federal judge rejected government arguments that the older case should be dismissed because it would compromise state secrets and damage national security.

    The NSA's bulk collection of communication information is done without probable cause that the plaintiffs are engaged in any crime or international terrorist activity, the lawsuit says.

    The White House said on Tuesday that Snowden, who applied for temporary asylum in Russia after spending three weeks in limbo at a Moscow airport, should be returned to the United States to face trial on espionage charges.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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