You, Too, May Be Suing the National Security Agency

Now that we finally know what they're up to ...NSA logoThe Electronic Frontier Foundation announced yesterday that they’ve put together a coalition of 19 organizations, ranging from the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles to the California Federation of Federal Firearms Licensees to Human Rights Watch to Greenpeace to sue the National Security Agency in federal court for violating members’ First Amendment rights in its recently revealed bulk collection of telephone data.

At the heart of the case, explains the EFF, is the potential chilling effect the collection of all this metadata has on the right of people to freely associate. Sure, the mass records collection may not include the contents of conversations, but just knowing who you are calling can say a lot about you, when you’re calling, say, the National Rifle Association or Planned Parenthood or a politician’s campaign office, or a sex line, or whatever:

"The First Amendment protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group, but the NSA's mass, untargeted collection of Americans' phone records violates that right by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Who we call, how often we call them, and how long we speak shows the government what groups we belong to or associate with, which political issues concern us, and our religious affiliation. Exposing this information – especially in a massive, untargeted way over a long period of time – violates the Constitution and the basic First Amendment tests that have been in place for over 50 years."

At the heart of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA is the bulk telephone records collection program that was confirmed by last month's publication of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) further confirmed that this formerly secret document was legitimate, and part of a broader program to collect all major telecommunications customers' call histories. The order demands wholesale collection of every call made, the location of the phone, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other "identifying information" for every phone and call for all customers of Verizon for a period of three months. Government officials further confirmed that this was just one of series of orders issued on a rolling basis since at least 2006.

"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 Cohn. "But fear of individual exposure when participating in political debates over high-stakes issues can dissuade people from taking part. That's why the Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that membership lists of groups have strong First Amendment protection. Telephone records, especially complete records collected over many years, are even more invasive than membership lists, since they show casual or repeated inquiries as well as full membership."

You can read the lawsuit here to determine whether a group you belong to or donate to is on the list of plaintiffs.

This lawsuit is separate from another surveillance-related EFF suit Zach Weissmueller reported on for Reason TV in June. Watch his interview with EFF Staff Attorney Mark Rumold below:

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  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I'm no expert on the Constitution, but that synopsis of their argument does not appear to be very strong, given the historical deference to the state from the Nazgul.

  • Pro Libertate||

    No standing, next case!

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    I'd like my part of the damages sent to me in $2 bills and Presidential Dollar Coins - lots of Rutherford B. Hayes ones, please.

  • Hugh Akston||

    My favorite part of that program is that Grover Cleveland gets two different coins with his face on them because GROVER CLEVELAND FUCKING WINS.

  • Cancer||

    It's one for each teste, FYI.

  • Dave Krueger||

    Wait. What's this about the NSA? Is this important? The only news I'm getting from my usual media sources is about the George Zimmerman trial/verdict. So, are you saying there are other things happening in the U.S.? This NSA thing must be a really trivial story, right? Certainly nothing that affects most Americans...

  • Hugh Akston||

    Did you hear that Rolling Stone is still publishing?

  • ||

    And they published this outrageous image! Who cares about the NSA?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Behold, if your eyes can withstand such horror.

  • Sevo||

    It's a "so-called" scandal, 'cause Bush.

  • Loki||

    The NSA is sooo last month. /typical American moron

  • Rich||

    just knowing who you are calling can say a lot about you, when you’re calling, say, the National Rifle Association or Planned Parenthood or a politician’s campaign office, or a sex line, or whatever

    "I just called to say 'I love you'!"

    "Oops, another misdial by ol' Fumble Fingers!"

    Seriously, TPTB's hallucinating based on "metadata" is a problem.

  • Hugh Akston||


    I used to go there for frogurt when I was in high school.

  • Rich||

    For some reason, I always think it's TOBY's yougurt.

  • Rich||


  • ||

    Don't call it that! That's its slave name!

  • DJF||

    One good thing, if you just write your complaint on a computer or text it on a phone you don’t have to bother to send it to the government, the NSA has already gotten a copy of it.

  • Rich||

    And it's totally *transparent* to the user!

  • Dave Krueger||

    The NSA sweeps up everything on the internet (especially stuff like comments), analyses it, and assigns each of us to a category based on what we say. I know it sounds bad, but it's for our own good. Someday you'll thank them when you find out that you're in a concentration camp category rather than a torture or kill list category.

  • ||

    It's important to look at the positive side of things.

  • DontShootMe||

  • Hugh Akston||

    SugarFree, of course, is on the "Senate Fast Track" list.

  • ||

    No, no, no. NutraSweet has been tapped for head of the FCC.

  • BuSab Agent||

    SugarFree's bizarre and stomach-churning writings have guaranteed him a position as camp guard. There's no more vile punishment TPTB can come up with than making us his captive audience.

  • Hugh Akston||


    A very serious strain of tuberculosis contracted from toilet paper.

  • Rich||

    I certainly hope the H&R commentariat doesn't get assigned to a concentration camp with all the hot chicks. That would be worse than being tortured or killed.

  • robc||

    For which group?

  • Mike M.||

    Your likely reward for suing the NSA: a permanent wiretap.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I'll let others file this lawsuit with absolutely no chance of succeeding on my behalf.

  • Dave Krueger||

    I think that's what they're suing about. Permanent wiretaps. On everyone. Everywhere.

  • Mike M.||

    That's not exactly how it works. Not yet at least.


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