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Seal of the National Security Agency
A large coalition of religious groups, privacy advocates, free speech, human rights and environmental organizations have joined with other groups in the Electronic Frontiers Foundation's suit against the NSA for its dragnet surveillance programs on First Amendment grounds.
"The First Amendment protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group, but the NSA's mass, untargeted collection of Americans' phone records violates that right by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Who we call, how often we call them, and how long we speak shows the government what groups we belong to or associate with, which political issues concern us, and our religious affiliation. Exposing this information—especially in a massive, untargeted way over a long period of time—violates the Constitution and the basic First Amendment tests that have been in place for over 50 years."
The suit targets Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the agency, with broad warrants from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to obtain a vast array of records, including those held by banks, doctors and phone companies. These broad warrants, the suit says, and the activity of the FISC and the NSA under it also violates the Fourth, and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The lead plaintiff is the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.
"The First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles has a proud history of working for justice and protecting people in jeopardy for expressing their political views," said Rev. Rick Hoyt. "In the 1950s, we resisted the McCarthy hysteria and supported blacklisted Hollywood writers and actors, and we fought California's 'loyalty oaths' all the way to the Supreme Court. And in the 1980s, we gave sanctuary to refugees from civil wars in Central America. The principles of our faith often require our church to take bold stands on controversial issues. We joined this lawsuit to stop the illegal surveillance of our members and the people we serve. Our church members and our neighbors who come to us for help should not fear that their participation in the church might have consequences for themselves or their families. This spying makes people afraid to belong to our church community."
The revelations from Edward Snowden's leaks, and the NSA's acknowledgement of the surveillance program resulting from those leaks, could give this case a better chance than the previous challenges EFF and other groups have tried to bring against the program.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 01:39 PM PDT.

Also republished by The First and The Fourth and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Proaction! (8+ / 0-)

    Dig it. May some good come from this effort.

  •  This issue is too important to ignore (18+ / 0-)

    It goes to the heart of democracy, of the U.S. Constitution's supremacy in law, and of public trust in public and private institutions. This is about the survival of our nation.

  •  Excellent news! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Deep Harm, Kombema, DRo, Brown Thrasher

    What are the chances for an open and fair hearing in the District Court of Northern California?

    Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you're always afraid. You step out of line, the man come and take you away. - S. Stills

    by ask on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 02:07:09 PM PDT

  •  I certainly hope that they succeed. (0+ / 0-)

    At the same time, I have to ask:

    "The First Amendment protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group, but the NSA's mass, untargeted collection of Americans' phone records violates that right by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties,"
    How?
    There is no overt action to prevent me from associating with other people.
    There POTENTIALLY is. But is this actually happening to any actual person?
    I don't see that knowing who you know is preventing you from associating with them or preventing you from expressing yourself.
    Are we seeing people being rounded up by the authorities either because of who they communicate with or what they say?
    As an outspoken activist that is on the street in my city every week, I don't feel the threat.
    Don't take that to mean that I don't support stopping this kind of mass dragnet surveillance, or that I don't value my privacy.  But realistically, based on the block quote above, the invasion of privacy doesn't inhibit association without some overt action. And so far, I have yet to hear of jackboot thugs rounding up the Peace and Justice League.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 02:13:52 PM PDT

    •  you don't value your privacy so much (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jayden

      ...that you aren't willing to trade it for association.

      If the government fines you $50 (subject to ability to pay) every time you go to a union meeting, there's still no overt action preventing you from associating. You pay the $50, you get to associate. It's still unconstitutional.

      •  Fining me $50 is an overt act (0+ / 0-)

        and BTW, I do value my privacy to the point where I forego certain rigged forms of association, no fecebook, no twitter, no cell phone, but that's not because the government might be interested, it's about corporate data collection which I find far more intrusive and annoying.

        If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

        by CwV on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 05:37:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is corporations who are spying on us (6+ / 0-)

          Booz Allen Hamilton (in which the Carlyle Group is heavily invested) was hired by the NSA to do the hoovering of all of our data.

          What will BAH do with that same info as a private corporation?

          Already with all the cookies I have to delete and/or block it's a major intrusion and annoyance.  A very few cookies for trusted genealogy web sites is really all I approve of - not these other corporate marketing cookies I loathe.

          I lead one of the most boring lives on the planet (and I also do not have a cell phone or iPad or the like).  I do genealogy research - a topic of no interest or value to anyone except other genealogy researchers or certain family members who think family history is interesting - the other family members' eyes glaze over in boredom.

          However, boring life notwithstanding, I reserve the right to lead my extraordinarily boring life in PRIVATE - per the Fourth Amendment before the fucking illegal and unconstitutional Patriot Act was written (it needs repealing in its entirety, along with the other illegal and unconstitutional acts passed that have taken away more of our rights and habeas corpus!).

          I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

          by NonnyO on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 08:56:35 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree and am with you 100% (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NonnyO, OldDragon

            It's the private sector mining our info that worries me more than the government. Corporations WILL act on your info, spam you, blacklist you, sell you up and down, track you with ads, et cetera. Particularly health data and financial data integrity worry me and those are ripped wide open by insurance companies and credit ratings agencies.
            And I agree that the PATRIOT ACT should be repealed and if there was a way to punish the bas+ards that put it through, I'd pull that lever.

            If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

            by CwV on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:30:31 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  This bears repeating (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Einsteinia, OldDragon, 3goldens
              And I agree that the PATRIOT ACT should be repealed and if there was a way to punish the bas+ards that put it through, I'd pull that lever.
              The ones who voted it in AND the ones who keep extending this nonsense.

              I have a list of unconstitutional and illegal legislation that needs repealing.  Not merely changing itty bitty parts of them here and there and leaving the rest of the illegal laws in place, but completely REPEALED IN THEIR ENTIRETY:

              AUMF [As far as I know, no one had a constitutional convention so Congress can't 'give up' its duties, one of which is war powers and the power of the purse to finance two years of war.]
              Patriot Act [We need ALL of our rights back.]
              MCA '06 [This took away habeas corpus.  WTF?  That's been a right of everyone since 1215.  Give it back!!!]
              FISA fiasco '08 [Telecoms employ legions of lawyers who are supposed to tell their bosses they can't do spying on us without a proper warrant.  There was no reason to grant them blanket immunity.  What were they thinking?!?  Obama voted FOR this crap.]
              MCA '09 [What was the point in "strengthening" an already illegal Military Commissions Act???  This happened under Obama.  Instead of leading the repeal of the first illegal MCA '06, he led the way to "strengthen" the unconstitutional laws.  W.T.F.???]

              While they're at it, they need to repeal Gramm-Leach-Bliley and just simply reinstate the original Glass-Steagall.  It's all good and well to do a "modern" Glass Steagall, but that mess needs to be rewritten, too.  It's worded like the Patriot Act in that it has a lot of "insert this here" nonsense, and who the hell has time to go look up existing law and find out what they want to insert.  That's how that mess of a Patriot Act became legal.  "Insert this here" or "Add this phrase here" to modify existing law is patent idiocy for passing laws.  Write it out in full - what it was, what they propose to pass or change - and compare one to another and then pass it if it's worth passing.  To me, the "new and improved" Warren proposed bill is no more than writing loopholes.  Reinstate the original bill to keep the various banking institutions separate, which was the whole point of the original bill in the first place, and repeal and negate Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

              WHERE are the heads of the idiots who write this legislation?  Have they never heard of, or read, Thomas Jefferson on how laws SHOULD be written???

              Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.
               ~ Thomas Jefferson
              Jefferson wrote laws for people of every, or no, educational background, all based on ordinary common sense and written in simple language even an uneducated person could understand.  THIS is why the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights are so much fun to read.  Simple elegance, concise language, and those simply-written laws say MUCH more than the loophole-laden legislation passed in modern America.

              I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

              by NonnyO on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 08:18:08 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Corporations can't arrest you. Governments can. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              3goldens

              "And now we know that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob." -- FDR

              by Mogolori on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 06:08:44 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  The right to privacy is part of the foundation (0+ / 0-)

      of which the ideals of freedom and liberty are built. It really is that simple.

    •  Actually, intimidation has and does happen (5+ / 0-)

      Part of the significance of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles being named first among the plaintiffs has to do with the history of government intrusion at that church.  During the McCarthy scare, the church vocally opposed blacklisting and won a landmark supreme court case for freedom of speech.  

      More recently, they provided sanctuary for refugees from Central America and frequently promote immigrant rights.  At one point, the minister had to shut down a rally against police brutality because the police called and threatened to arrest everyone.  

      In part, government surveillance works to smoothers free speech by intimidating individuals and groups who would otherwise associate with such an organization.  

      Even if an individual does not break the law, they can be taken into custody and detained without rights in a system of dark immigration prisons.  

      For friends of mine and families I work with these threats are real.

    •  I hope they fail. (0+ / 0-)

      The problem isn't with data collection. It's with secret legal justification.

    •  Here's why (0+ / 0-)

      You have the right to put your hand on a hot stove.

      It's a right that very few people exercise. Why? Because any reasonable person can foresee that harm to self will follow.

      What you're asking is whether the harm for engaging in association is apparent.

      The answer is that Americans are already afraid to have the wrong associations. The US government has spent 100 years, ever since the Palmer Red Raids, repressing most left-wing groups and some right-wing groups.

      At times, the repression has been harsh. In the 1920s, it could cost you your life. In the 1950s, it could cost you your liberty or your job. In the 1960s and 1970s, it could cost you your liberty. Now employers do a lot of the policing of political correctness.

      As I said to a friend who had escaped from totalitarianism in Central Europe: "They don't have to kill millions anymore. They already did."  

  •  Microsoft sends letter to AG Holder (6+ / 0-)

    http://news.cnet.com/...

    Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, sent a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this afternoon saying there is "no longer a compelling government interest" in preventing companies "from sharing more information" about how they respond. That's especially true, the letter said, when this information is likely to help "allay public concerns" about warrantless surveillance.
    "The Constitution itself is suffering" from ongoing secrecy, Smith said in his letter to Holder, adding that "it will take the personal involvement of you or the President to set things right." Last week, according to Smith, Microsoft requested permission to divulge more information in an effort to clear its name, but the Justice Department "rejected" the request.
  •  The Complaint is a an Interesting Read (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CroneWit, Kombema, Brown Thrasher, NonnyO

    but I'd be curious as to why the suit just focuses on the Associational Tracking Program which appears to be limited to everybody's phone calls and not also on PRISM, the dragnet surveillance directed at Google Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, etc. ?

    PRISM is being used to provide both FBI and NSA with boatloads of detailed personal content directly accessed on servers such as video and audio chat files, documents, connection logs, photographs, users’ larger network of contacts, emails, etc.  

      •  :-) I'm for giant baby steps (6+ / 0-)

        There are things that just are NOT the business of anyone in government or elsewhere.

        If I want to invite a friend over to discuss genealogy research or I offer to show a newbie researcher how to find ancestors on computer searches, how is that the business of anyone, least of all the government?

        Altho... it would help enormously if the US government was as smart as certain foreign governments who have put their documents online for free.  I know, because I do research in their databases that are free for anyone to use.

        Instead, our government morons want to make all our public documents some big major classified secrets....  Makes no sense.

        I have old bad-quality microfilm images of papers in the file of my Revolutionary War ancestor - his honorable discharge after more than six years of enlisted service was signed at Newburgh by "G. Washington" himself.  It would be wonderful to have a good quality colored digital image of those papers, as well as the application for pension later and the deed for the land he got for fighting in the Rev. War.  That ancestor has been dead for nearly 200 years.  I don't think he cares..., but as his descendant, I care very much.

        I would far rather the government did something beneficial and useful with our tax dollars, including a decent not-for-profit single-payer health insurance system (the easiest would be a buy-in to Medicare)..., anything useful, rather than wasting our money on war, lies, more war, bailing out banks, paying off corporations who steal our info while getting paid to spy on us, other corporations that hire out paid mercenaries, etc.

        I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

        by NonnyO on Tue Jul 16, 2013 at 09:10:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Maybe because they have an official (7+ / 0-)

      court document authorizing the phone/GPS data tracking and they only have a PowerPoint discussing PRISM.

  •  Joan, thanks for writing so even-handedly (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kombema, quill, jayden, TheMomCat, Joieau, NonnyO

    about NSA-related issues.  Its important that Kossites & visitors to this site are kept informed about the NSA surveillance state and about Liberal/Progressive/Democrat attempts to return America to its commitment to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Thank you.

  •  Phew! We just might write a (6+ / 0-)

    better next chapter on the dystopian nightmare.

    Had it not been for Edward Snowden they would not have the essential evidence they need to prove their case.

    Edward Snowden for Nobel Peace prize!

    Separation of Church and State AND Corporation

    by Einsteinia on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 05:53:14 PM PDT

  •  They're wasting their time. (0+ / 0-)

    Arguing that the government shouldn't know who you associate with, and that that knowledge impedes your 1st amendment rights? Should it be illegal for police to be present at a rally in that case?

    Weak argument.

    Weak case.

  •  The Unitarian Church of Los Angeles is... (7+ / 0-)

    ...a cesspool of terrorism.  Last time I went there they were planning something.  I could hear them talk about "one god".  What do you mean?  No Jesus or Virgin Mary?  These people are dangerous I tell you.

    I am happy the NSA is on top of it.

    /snark you spooks.  Get it?  You don't get it?  What your semantical analysis of my comment is lost on your data mining?

    Ok Ok.  I'll give you the names of the Unitarian Ministers you are looking for...

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 06:00:04 PM PDT

  •  Excellent, the NSA bringing us together as one! (5+ / 0-)
    A large coalition of religious groups, privacy advocates, free speech, human rights and environmental organizations have joined with other groups in the Electronic Frontiers Foundation's suit . . . .

    He who would trade liberty for security deserves great customer service.

    by Publius2008 on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 06:01:18 PM PDT

  •  Wow. Just lost ability to rate comments, except (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xxdr zombiexx, david78209

    diarist's tip jar.  That sneaky NSA . . . .

    He who would trade liberty for security deserves great customer service.

    by Publius2008 on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 06:05:24 PM PDT

    •  Old diary, just posted. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      3goldens

      You can see and rate newer comments.

      N$A has bigger fish to fry.

      Like OWS and Quakers.

    •  I blame the NSA for every glitch of the internet, (0+ / 0-)

      my cell phone, this web site, my computers, and anything else I can think of.  Friday before last there was an error in the takeout order from my favorite Chinese restaurant.  I didn't think of the NSA then, but I bet they were behind that, too.  

      We may as well blame everything on them.  They're too secrecy-bound to deny it, and the more times they pick up "NSA" on their wiretaps the more time they'll spend chasing down false positives.

      We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

      by david78209 on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 07:09:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A little paranoia is a good thing (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        david78209

        I discovered that certain e-mail I was trying to send was blocked because it contained a link to the Constitution. I tested this repeatedly over the course of several days. With the link, it was blocked. Without, it was not.

        The ISP claimed that their software must have confused the link with a virus.

        Strange that their "virus" was allergic to the Constitution.

  •  Sounds Like Real Intelligence (0+ / 0-)

    Let's hope a little justice prevails.

  •  Snowden may have moved this suit (0+ / 0-)

    I don't pretend to know the inside baseball of why this is moving forward. But I suspect that the Snowden revelations may have played an important role.

    I did a diary which I expect to be widely ignored on two Harvard Law Review articles on surveillance. One of the issues that has stymied lawsuits has been that the courts have argued that since surveillance is secret, the plaintiffs have no standing. They don't know they've been surveilled, so they can't even bring the suit to court. Richards:

    How can plaintiffs prove injury if the government is not required to admit whether surveillance exists in the first place?
    This stopped ACLU vs. NSA cold.

    The courts read the newspapers. The Snowden revelations make it clear that everyone is being surveilled. Courts who denied standing now would be ridiculous.

    And, yes, even our reactionary courts do care what the public thinks about them.  

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