The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) led coalition, involving 19 consumer and privacy groups, has filed a lawsuit against the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over illegal electronic spying through Prism programme.
Filed in the US federal court in San Francisco, the lawsuit targets warrantless compilation of US communications as part of an intelligence programme partially revealed by ex-Central Intelligence Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The coalition alleged that the collection of telephone records breached their rights secured in the First Amendment. They also sought an injunction against the NSA, Justice Department, FBI and directors of the federal agencies.
EFF legal director Cindy Cohn said that 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 associational ties.
"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," Cohn said.
"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 coalition has also demanded the federal government to return and wipe out any telephone communications data possessed during surveillance, while also seeking a jury trial on the allegations involved in the suit.
The plaintiffs include the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Calguns Foundation, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, People for the American Way, TechFreedom, the Council on American Islamic Relations Foundation, Students for Sensible Drug Policy among others.
"People who hold controversial views – whether it’s about gun ownership policies, drug legalisation, or immigration – often must express views as a group in order to act and advocate effectively," Cohn said.
"Telephone records, especially complete records collected over many years, are even more invasive than membership lists, since they show casual or repeated inquiries as well as full membership."