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ACLU Files Lawsuit Over NSA Phone Surveillance

ACLU Files Lawsuit Over NSA Phone Surveillance

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.

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Henry Hawkins | June 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm

The sky is orange, grass is blue, dogs are sleeping with cats, and I’m pulling for the ACLU.

From the news reports, it’s pretty hard not to have “standing”

I don’t know about you, but I was think about forming my own 501(c)4 but after hearing horror stories about Tea Parties trying to get their 501(c) 4-s, I decided to hold off.

That said … how about a settlement of Tea Party v IRS modeled on the Pigford settlement

Call me a cynic and a sourpuss, but I predict the ACLU will fold on this.

For one thing, while the ACLU’s lawyers may be mostly on board with this lawsuit (although I doubt it), the non-lawyers who donate millions to the ACLU will not be pleased. Also, even if ACLU lawyers and financial supporters are singing from the same hymnbook, the media will probably ignore the story or frame it in terms hostile to the ACLU.

But most importantly, I don’t think the ACLU is politically and mentally capable of following through with this. The ACLU is chock-full of Obama supporters who will instinctively recoil from doing anything that will politically harm him, and I believe that will win out in the end. Despite its name, the American Civil Liberties Union support for civil liberties is spotty at best. Example: on the issue of the second amendment – something that is actually in the Constitution instead of their imaginations – the ACLU is AWOL.

That “standing” issue chaps my hide. I voted for Proposition 8 in California, the ballot initiative that defined marriage as between one man and one woman and was not a prohibition of so called same sex marriage.

Prop 8 passed, meaning that the expressed will of the electorate endorsed the amendment of the state constitution.

Then Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger AND then State Attorney General Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Junior, elected officials that had the “standing” to defend the express will of the California electorate declined, dare I say neglected, eschewed, shunned, snubbed, evaded, abandoned and rejected, to exercise the “standing” of their constitutional offices in court when LGBT representatives sued.

I don’t believe the Progressive house is divided. I’ll watch for some National spokesindividual to fulminate then apologize and for an ACLU toady’s head to roll.

Thanks, Mandy and thank you, Professor.

Interesting: Southern District of New York. I hope lots of people try in different venues. I know I’d join a class action if my carrier is properly outed. I think this is undeniable: we will/ have all experienced this as chilling speech to some extent. You think these judges aren’t thinking the same thing as they look at their cell phones and g-mail?

My former intel partner said this was the issue that will bring the program to a halt- IF the judges follow the Constitution. And who knows if that will happen…

The point he made, that I made here was that metadata tracks your phone and through that your movements. If you go to church or a political meeting, the government can sweep every phone around you and find out who you worship with. Your political meeting could be with a few friend at your kitchen table and with all your curtain drawn and they will still know who you are with.

You have to change your normal behavior (turning off your phone and pulling your battery) to regain your normal standard of privacy against governmental intrusion.

This is why Clapper and the rest were lying. They were trying not to have this argument.

The White House and Dem legislators will have a hard time putting out the full Alinsky on the ACLU. I predict this suit will cause them major heartburn.

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[…] Legal Insurrection reminds us that this was not the first law suit filed when it comes to the NSA data dragnet, Larry Klayman, former chairman of ‘Judicial Watch’ filed one as well. […]