The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Obama administration over claims surveillance of phone calls is unconstitutional and illegally erodes the free speech rights of religious, environmental and human rights groups.
The lawsuit, filed today in federal court in San Francisco, focuses on warrantless collection of U.S. communications under an intelligence program partly disclosed by ex-government security contractor Edward Snowden and later acknowledged by the administration. The EFF sued on behalf of groups including Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace and Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Any judicial, executive or executive authorization” of the “Associational Tracking Program or the acquisition and retention of the communications information of plaintiffs, their members, and their staffs is unlawful and invalid,” EFF legal director Cindy Cohn said in the complaint.
Intelligence agencies use the surveillance to study the private associations and contacts of the groups and their staff members, chilling their political advocacy work, San Francisco-based EFF said in the filing.
EFF seeks a court order finding the surveillance illegal and forcing the government to destroy phone records it has collected.
Andrew Ames, a Justice Department spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence and a defendant in the suit, said June 7 that the records-collection is lawful and aimed at thwarting terrorism. The phone-records program and another to collect Internet data are authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar lawsuit in June over the National Security Agency program revealed by Snowden to news organizations.
The EFF 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).