The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has provided a federal judge with testimony from 22 separate advocacy organizations detailing how the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass telephone records collection program has impeded the groups’ work, discouraged their members and reduced the numbers of people seeking their help via hotlines. The declarations accompanied a motion for partial summary judgment filed late Wednesday, in which EFF asks the court to declare the surveillance illegal on two levels — the law does not authorize the program, and the Constitution forbids it.
In First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, EFF represents a diverse array of environmentalists, gun-rights activists, religious groups, human-rights workers, drug-policy advocates and others that share one major commonality: they each depend on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free association. EFF argues that if the government vacuums up the records of every phone call — who made the call, who received the call, when and how long the parties spoke — then people will be afraid to join or engage with organizations that may have dissenting views on political issues of the day. The US government acknowledged the existence of the telephone records collection program this summer, after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked a copy of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order authorizing the mass collection of Verizon telephone records.
“The plaintiffs, like countless other associations across the country, have suffered real and concrete harm because they have lost the ability to assure their constituents that the fact of their telephone communications between them will be kept confidential from the federal government,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney David Greene said. “This has caused constituents to reduce their calling. This is exactly the type of chilling effect on the freedom of association that the First Amendment forbids.” [Continue reading…]