A diverse coalition of 19 groups announced today a lawsuit against the United States government for “an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance,” known as the Associational Tracking Program, which collects all telephone records handled by Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint in the US.
The lawsuit, (pdf), lodged in San Francisco federal court, is at least the fourth challenging the government’s wholesale phone surveillance program first disclosed by the Guardian newspaper, reports Wired.
The group, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, aims to compel the government to inventory and disclose the records in its possession, to destroy them, and to immediately end the surveillance program.
The Guardian in June posted a leaked copy of a top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion requiring Verizon Business to provide the NSA the phone numbers of both parties involved in all calls, the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number for mobile callers, calling card numbers used in the call, and the time and duration of the calls.
“The bulk collection of telephone communications information without a valid, particularized warrant supported by probable cause violates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, as well as statutory prohibitions and limitations on electronic surveillance,” the suit alleges.
“The program collects information concerning all calls wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls, as well as all calls between the United States and abroad, regardless of a connection to international terrorism, reasonable suspicion of criminality, or any other form of wrongdoing.”
In addition to the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, the full list of plaintiffs in this case includes the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Calguns Foundation, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, People for the American Way, and TechFreedom.
According to Bloomberg, 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.
In related news, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court has ruled for Yahoo, to enable it to release records of its fight against PRISM. Yahoo’s fight was classified, and other companies might have acted similarly. The FBI has said that PRISM is legal through the FISA system.