A coalition of 19 organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the National Security Agency, alleging the agency's dragnet phone-record collection program is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit alleges the government is violating the groups' First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly by collecting the records, as well as Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure and Fifth Amendment due process rights.
Groups listed as plaintiffs in the case include Muslim and Unitarian religious associations, two marijuana reform organizations, Greenpeace, three pro-gun groups, Human Rights Watch and a handful of technological and political pressure groups.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is leading the legal fight. A similar lawsuit filed by EFF on behalf of AT&T customers, Jewel v. NSA, has been making its way through the courts since 2008.
"People who hold controversial views – whether it's about gun ownership policies, drug legalization, or immigration – often must express views as a group in order to act and advocate effectively," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn in a statement. "But fear of individual exposure when participating in political debates over high-stakes issues can dissuade people from taking part."
The suit argues that the program chills the practice of First Amendment-protected free expression and violates the plaintiffs' "reasonable expectation of privacy in their telephone communications."
EFF's lawsuit identifies the phone program as the Associational Tracking Program, which it says is "an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance."
The Guardian published a secret court order June 5 that revealed the government was quietly seizing all Verizon phone records on an "ongoing, daily" basis. Shortly after the disclosure, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. – a supporter of the surveillance – said the court order was a regular reauthorization of a seven-year-old secret court dictate.
Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and NSA Director Keith Alexander are among the officials named as defendants in the latest EFF case, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. President Barack Obama is not named as a defendant.
The lawsuit joins a growing list of challenges to NSA snooping. An aspiring class-action lawsuit was filed in June against the government and Verizon by Freedom Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union announced a lawsuit attacking the government's legal justification for the program. Last week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center announced a bid to trigger fast-tracked Supreme Court review of the surveillance, which currently operates under the supervision of a secret court that issues court orders that allow the government to conduct certain intelligence activities.