The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit Tuesday in New York against the Obama administration, contending that its secret program of collecting domestic phone call logs is unlawful. In the lawsuit, ACLU asked a judge to stop the program and purge records collected.
“The complaint challenges the government’s dragnet acquisition of plaintiff’s telephone records under section 215 of the Patriot act,” the suit reads.
“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,” ACLU says in the complaint. “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.”
The suit alleges that the government’s program violates the First and Fourth amendments.
“The surveillance is not authorized by section 215 and violates the First and Fourth Amendments. Plaintiffs bring this suit to obtain a declaration that Mass Call Tracking is unlawful; to enjoin the government from continuing the Mass Call Tracking under VBNS order or any successor thereto; and to require the government to purge its database of all the call records related to the Plaintiff’s communications collected pursuant to the Mass Call Tracking.”
The government’s phone surveillance program was first revealed by the Guardian and the Washington Post. Edward J. Snowden, a former NSA contractor, admitted he was the source of the disclosures to the publications.
According to the records obtained by the Guardian and the Washington Post, the order to collect the phone records required Verizon on an “ongoing daily basis,” to hand in to the National Security Agency (NSA) information on all telephone calls of its customers, both within the US and between the US and other countries. Verizon was to collect records of millions of US citizens regardless of whether they were suspected of any unlawful activity.
According to media reports, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) granted the order to the FBI in April. It granted the government wide powers to collect data for a specified three-month period. Under the terms of the order, records of both parties of a call were collected, including their telephone numbers, location, the length of the calls, and the time of the calls. According to reports, the contents of the calls were not disclosed.
Sources say this lawsuit is expected to rekindle longstanding debates in the US over the limits of the government’s domestic spying powers.
Security agencies under the Bush administration had revealed to reporters the sweeping collection of call records data by the NSA. But the continuation of the secret practice under Obama administration was not known until now.
Sources say the unrestricted nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is extremely rare. Usually FISA court orders are narrow and are directed toward a finite set of individuals or one individual suspected of wrongdoing.
By Perviz Walji