Massive Government Spying Program Prompts Lawsuits

Posted June 12, 2013 in Your Personal Rights by

Satellite dishes pointed at the sky


Following last week’s disclosure of the massive spying program that the United States government has imposed on its citizens, the lawsuits are rolling in.

Attorney Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch, and other plaintiffs filed a federal suit in Washington, D.C., Sunday alleging that the program’s “violations of free speech, prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure, and due process rights are unprecedented in American history.”

Tuesday, the ACLU lodged a similar complaint in New York, claiming “This surveillance . . . violates the First and Fourth Amendments.” More lawsuits are expected to follow.

The two initial suits focus on the disclosure that Verizon has been providing the National Security Administration with information including phone numbers, time and duration of every single call made or received by its customers. The data trolling has been ongoing since 2006.

The dragnet was revealed when former security contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about the program to the Guardian newspaper, which publicized the bombshell disclosure last week.

“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,” the ACLU suit claims. “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.”


Chilling Effect on Whistle-blowers

Klayman’s suit names as plaintiffs a family who claim they have been specifically targeted for surveillance for making anti-government statements online after their son was killed in Afghanistan. It names Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, the NSA and Verizon, among other defendants.

The lawsuit is a class action that aspires to cover over 100 million people, and seeks $3 billion in damages as well as the cessation of the spying program and expungement of all records previously collected.

In its own suit, the ACLU names itself as a plaintiff because it is a Verizon customer, and notes that the monitoring of its telecommunications could dissuade people from seeking the organization’s help, alleging that the program “is likely to have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and others who would otherwise contact” it for legal assistance.

It is also seeking an injunction against the program and destruction of all data.


Societal Choices

The Verizon leak was followed by the disclosure of the NSA’s potentially even more invasive PRISM program. Effectively, any and all data about a person’s emails, web transactions, searches, chats and anything else that leaves an electronic trail is subject to collection by the shadowy security agency in an enormous database.

The surveillance programs were authorized by Section 215 of the 2001 Patriot Act, passed after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, which gives the FBI authority to demand “any tangible things . . . for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill in 2011 re-upping the Patriot Act until 2015. Obama on Friday defended the programs as “modest encroachments on privacy” that “help us prevent terrorist attacks.”

“They are not looking at people’s names and they’re not looking at content,” the president said. “If the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation.”

He also claimed that PRISM only collects data from foreign citizens who do not reside in the United States. “It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society, and what I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity.”

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