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ACLU sues Obama administration over NSA phone-records ‘dragnet’

Posted Jun 11, 2013 4:25 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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In the first step in a process that could eventually lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the legality of a sweeping telephone records review revealed last week by a former National Security Agency contractor, the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday sued the Obama administration over its "dragnet" collection of domestic phone-call information.

While U.S. officials have emphasized that the cellphone call records collected for millions of Verizon customers since 2006 include only "metadata" such as the phone numbers and duration of the calls rather than their content, the ACLU says in its suit that collecting such information “gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations,” the New York Times (reg. req.) reports.

Further, since the ACLU itself is a Verizon business network customer, such data collection is likely to deter whistleblowers and others from calling the civil rights organization for legal assistance, the suit contends.

"The practice is akin to snatching every American’s address book—with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where. It gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations."

An ACLU press release provides further information and a link to the complaint (PDF) filed in federal court in Manhattan.

It seeks a declaratory judgment that the mass call tracking exceeds the government's statutory authority to conduct such reviews, as well as the First and Fourth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and injunctive relief requiring the feds to stop the surveillance program and purge the records it has collected so far.

The Department of Justice declined to comment when contacted by the newspaper.

Courthouse News, Reuters and the Washington Post (reg. req.) also have stories.

Another lawsuit over the phone records collection program was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., by activist lawyer Larry Klayman, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier today.

Additional coverage

ABAJournal.com: "Is US perusing millions of phone records? Secret court order reveals ‘massive scale’ data collection"

ABAJournal.com: "Lawmakers: US has gotten cellphone info for 7 years, ‘lawful’ program prevented terrorist attack"

ABAJournal.com: "US also collects Internet data; does NSA directly tap servers of Google and other top companies?"

ABAJournal.com: "Surveillance leaker checks out of Hong Kong hotel as US readies charges"

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