ACLU sues over NSA phone surveillance

The suit argues that the program infringes upon the group's First and Fourth Amendment rights, among other things

Published June 12, 2013 1:21PM (EDT)

The ACLU is suing Obama Administration and intelligence officials over the NSA's phone surveillance program, arguing that the widespread collection of data violates the group's rights to privacy and free speech.

In an unusual move, the ACLU is suing on behalf of itself as customers of Verizon, arguing that the program " infringes upon the ACLU's First Amendment rights, including the twin liberties of free expression and free association," according to a statement on the website. The suit also argues that the program constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as Section 215 of the Patriot Act:

The statute requires that records seized under its authority be "relevant" to an authorized foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigation. But while that language imposes a real limitation on when the government can use Section 215, the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] order covering all [Verizon Business Network Services] customers demonstrates that this "relevance" restraint is shockingly inadequate. Similarly, the FISC order shows that the government—with the FISC's secret approval—is acquiring future records of telephone subscribers based on the same "relevance" requirement, even though the statute uses words that clearly show it was only meant to cover "tangible things" already in existence.

"The fact that the government is collecting this information is likely to have a chilling effect on people who would otherwise contact [the ACLU]," the suit says.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, names Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Keith B. Alexander, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller as defendants.

This is the second lawsuit filed against the Obama Administration and intelligence officials over revelations, first reported by the Guardian and the Washington Post, about the NSA's expansive surveillance of phone calls. The first was filed by Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman, on behalf of himself and two other Verizon customers.

On Tuesday, the ACLU also filed a motion to release classified court opinions handed down by the FISC court, which authorizes domestic intelligence operations like these under FISA and the Patriot Act. A group of senators is also pushing legislation to force Eric Holder to declassify the opinions, though their efforts are not inspiring much confidence among their colleagues in Congress.

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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Aclu Eric Holder James Clapper Nsa Prism Surveillance Verizon