The ACLU has just filed a lawsuit challenging several in the Obama administration over its indiscriminate scooping up of phone records.
From the ACLU’s website:
In the wake of the past week’s revelations about the NSA’s unprecedented mass surveillance of phone calls, today the ACLU filed a lawsuit charging that the program violates Americans’ constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy.
This lawsuit comes a day after we submitted a motion to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) seeking the release of secret court opinions on the Patriot Act’s Section 215, which has been interpreted to authorize this warrantless and suspicionless collection of phone records.
With today’s lawsuit, the ACLU is now attacking Section 215 on three legal fronts: in our ongoing FOIA litigation seeking the government’s secret interpretation of the law; in the FISA Court through yesterday’s public-access motion; and now, in a constitutional lawsuit in federal court. When the government is claiming such chillingly expansive surveillance powers, it’s all hands on deck.
The suit names Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Charles Hagel and FBI Director Robert Mueller III as defendants.
The NY Times explains why this case is different than the usual involvement ACLU has in other court cases – in this one, the organization itself has standing as the aggrieved party.
The A.C.L.U. has frequently assisted other plaintiffs in challenges against national security policies, but the government has generally persuaded courts to dismiss such lawsuits without any ruling on the legal merits after arguing that litigation over any classified program would reveal state secrets or that the plaintiffs could not prove they were personally affected and so lacked standing to sue.
This case may be different. The government has now declassified the existence of the program on domestic call record “metadata.” And the A.C.L.U. itself is a customer of Verizon Business Network Services — the subsidiary of Verizon Communications that was the recipient of a secret court order for all its domestic calling records — which it says gives it direct standing to bring the lawsuit.
On Sunday, a similar suit was filed by Larry Klayman, former chairman of Judicial Watch, against President Obama, Eric Holder, Keith Alexander, the NSA and Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, among others. The suit claims that the government’s phone surveillance activities “violates the U.S. Constitution and also federal laws, including, but not limited to, the outrageous breach of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the due process rights of American citizens.”
Klayman indicated that he is a Verizon Wireless customer. It’s unclear yet whether or not that grants him standing in the legal action. A copy of that filing can be found here.
This has been a fast moving week of developments, and it’s likely there will be more like this to follow.