NSA Headquarters in Maryland

NSA Headquarters in Maryland

The NSA and Edward Snowden has been in the news a lot over the past month for spying on US citizens, collecting phone records and getting unrestricted access to data from some of the largest tech companies in the country. Today, a broad coalition of groups supporting everything from religion, drugs, and digital rights to guns and the environment sued the National Security Agency in federal court in San Francisco, demanding a federal judge immediately halt what they are calling an “unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance” stemming from the government’s vast collection of Americans’ phone-calling data. The suit was brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights advocacy group and law firm. The lawsuit can be viewed in PDF form here.

Other organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have also recently sued the NSA in response to leaked information on its surveillance programs.

The suit names the National Security Agency; NSA Director Keith Alexander, Attorney General Eric Holder; Federal Bureau of Investigation; FBI Director Robert Mueller; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others.

The plaintiffs include: First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles; Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Calguns Foundation; California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees; Council on Islamic Relations; Franklin Armory; Free Press; Free Software Foundation; Greenpeace; Human Rights Watch; Media Alliance; National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; Open Technology Institute; People for the American Way, Public Knowledge; Students for Sensible Drug Policy; TechFreedom; and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

The law that has been authorizing the surveillance is the Patriot Act — adopted six weeks after the 2001 terror attacks — and greatly expanded the government’s power to intrude into the private lives of Americans.

The suit names one of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act — Section 215 — that allows the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize broad warrants for most any type of records, including those held by banks, doctors and phone companies. Lawmakers have repeatedly voted to prevent the act from expiring. The government only needs to show that the information is “relevant” to an authorized investigation. No connection to a terrorist or spy is required.