The American Civil Liberties Union announced Tuesday that it has filed a federal lawsuit against key members of President Obama’s national security team over the National Security Agency’s telephone surveillance, the first legal challenge to the newly disclosed intelligence gathering system.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, argues that the NSA’s ongoing, daily collection of virtually all Verizon telephone records is unconstitutional and should be stopped.
"This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens," Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, said in a statement. "It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation.”
As a Verizon customer, the ACLU claims that the NSA’s seizure of telephone records “compromises sensitive information about its work” and harms its ability to freely communicate.
The Guardian newspaper last week published an order, marked “Top Secret,” from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that requires Verizon to turn over all “telephony metadata,” or records of each call, over a three-month period. Lawmakers later said the program has been in operation nonstop for seven years under similar court orders.
The White House has come under harsh criticism for the NSA’s deal with Verizon, as well as the so-called PRISM program, which was designed to secretly obtain emails, photos, documents and other online material from foreign nationals. A former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, has claimed responsibility for leaking both programs.
The administration has strongly defended the surveillance systems, saying they are approved by Congress and the courts, and thus within the law.
Obama "believes as commander-in-chief that the oversight structures that are in place to ensure that there is the proper review of the kinds of programs that we have in place, authorized by Congress through the Patriot Act, and FISA do strike that balance,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.
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