We could see this coming. After it was revealed by whistleblower and former NSA contractor, Edward J. Snowden that the National Security Agency was conducting surveillance on American citizens’ Verizon accounts, privacy concerns arose. Now lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the NSA’s surveillance program have started. The first was filed over the weekend, reports Wired. The lawsuit alleges the spy operation is an “outrageous breach of privacy.”
Verizon, NSA, Justice Department, President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and others are named in the suit.
According to Wired, the suit was lodged by Verizon customer Larry Klayman, the former chairman of Judicial Watch, and two others who say the government illegally spied on their Verizon accounts. Klayman’s suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claims the spy program “violates the U.S. Constitution and also federal laws, including, but not limited to, the outrageous breach of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the due process rights of American citizens.”
A couple in Philadelphia, Mary Ann and Charles Strange, have also filed a $3 billion class action lawsuit saying they were monitored after their son Michael died in Afghanistan. Michael Strange was a Navy SEAL. “The Stranges based their allegations on ‘information and belief,'” reports CNN.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also sued the Obama Administration over its “dragnet” collection of logs of domestic phone calls, reports the New York Times. The ACLU claims the NSA program is illegal and is asking a judge to stop it and order the records purged.
According to the lawsuit, the program “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.” The ACLU has the right to sue because it is a customer of Verizon Business Network Services. The case could set up an eventual Supreme Court test.
There have already been some moves by the government to tamp down the scandal. It has now declassified the existence of the program.
The program was not an Obama administration creation, though it has continued the operation. “The effort began as part of the Bush administration’s post-Sept. 11 programs of surveillance without court approval, which has continued since 2006 with the blessing of a national security court,” reports the Times. “The court has secretly ruled that bulk surveillance is authorized by a section of the Patriot Act that allows the F.B.I. to obtain ‘business records’ relevant to a counterterrorism investigation.”
And although Congress never openly voted to authorize program, some lawmakers were secretly briefed. But Congress is publicly divided–some members have backed the program as a useful counterterrorism tool; others have denounced it.
“The administration claims authority to sift through details of our private lives because the Patriot Act says that it can,” Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “I disagree. I authored the Patriot Act, and this is an abuse of that law.”
Privacy advocates are outraged, saying the surveillance of domestic calls “will erode the sense of living in a free society: whenever Americans pick up a phone, they now face the consideration of whether they want the record of that call to go into the government’s files,” writes the Times.
What do you think of the NSA scandal?