FBI Director Targeted in Revised NSA Surveillance Lawsuit

FBI Director James Comey was added as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that the National Security Agency’s “dragnet” electronic surveillance violates constitutional protection of free speech.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed its original complaint in July in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles and more than a dozen other organizations that rely on private telephone conversations to support themselves. Comey, the former No. 2 official at the U.S. Justice Department under President George W. Bush, started his new job this month, replacing Robert Mueller as the first new head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation since before the September 2001 terror attacks.

The NSA, in coordination with the Justice Department and FBI, uses a tracking program to collect information about “all telephone calls transiting the networks of all major American telecommunication companies,” including Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), AT&T Inc. (T) and Sprint Corp. (S), according to the complaint.

The lawsuit targets the “business records” provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The EFF, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, alleges that the NSA has violated the “right of association” protection under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment that prevents the government from interfering with citizens’ rights to assemble and express political views as a group.

Five Organizations

Today’s amended complaint adds five new organizations as plaintiffs, including the National Lawyers Guild and Patient Privacy Rights, according to a statement by the EFF.

Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment on the amended complaint.

The EFF won a ruling in July in federal court in San Francisco allowing plaintiffs in a 2008 class-action case to pursue damages claims over allegations that government surveillance of phone communications violates wiretapping laws.

The case is First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. National Security Agency, 13-cv-03287, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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