Writers, Lawmakers, and the NRA Support ACLU Challenge to NSA Spying

Updated (09/05/2013): An impressive array of organizations and individuals filed amicus briefs yesterday in support of the ACLU's constitutional challenge to the government's collection of the call records of virtually everyone in the United States. The range of voices joining the protest against mass government surveillance—not to mention the bipartisan storm that has swept Congress since the recent NSA disclosures — is a real testament to the fact that the government's dragnet surveillance practices are offensive to Americans from across the political spectrum.

Among the groups supporting our lawsuit are the National Rifle Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the PEN American Center. Philosophy Professor Michael Lynch submitted a brief arguing that privacy is fundamental to human dignity. Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation submitted a brief on behalf of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the authors of the Patriot Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner has decried the now-public call-records program as outside the scope of the law he authored. He reiterated that point in his brief:

The Defendants attempt to justify their practice of collecting the records of every telephone call made to or from the United States, including purely domestic calls, by claiming that Congress intended to authorize precisely such a program when it enacted and reauthorized Section 215 of the Act.... But Congress intended no such thing.

Last week, the ACLU also received support from two former members of the Church Committee and 30 law professors. That brief argues that the government's bulk collection of our call records is inconsistent with the goals of Congress when it enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978. It argues that one of the most important reforms enacted by Congress in response to the Church Committee's findings was the requirement that the government obtain individualized surveillance orders before spying on Americans. The government's bulk collection of our call records ignores that common-sense limitation on its spying authority.

The amicus briefs were filed in ACLU v. Clapper, which challenges the government's ongoing collection, under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, of the details of every single phone call made by every American. This post does a good job explaining how incredibly invasive those details, known as metadata, can be.

Below is a handy visualization demonstrating the staggering scope of just what the government is doing. We learned this summer that when NSA analysts want to search through the phone records of terrorism suspects, they also search through the records of anyone "three hops" away from that suspect. If three sounds like a small number to you, consider what that means if each of those "hops" has just 40 contacts. The size of the government's dragnet suddenly becomes clearer and considerably more frightening.

Read more about what we're doing to roll back the surveillance state.

Learn more about government surveillance and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Add a comment (9)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

According to the small-world experiment ALL AMERICANS who use social networking are connected by just 3 degrees of separation. Therefore, a "3 hop search" should be searching almost every American. Remember that Facebook is specifically named as one of their top tier data providers in one of the early leaks.

Anonymous

This is excellent news. As a citizen of one of Washington's vassal states (Canada), I know that my privacy rights mean nothing if Americans don't have them. The next step is to make my privacy rights -- the rights of "foreigners" -- as important as those of our American cousins.

I'm pleased to see that the NRA's interest in the constitution goes beyond the Second Amendment.

Anonymous

I get is 62,440 plus the original suspect if we assume that there are no overlaps in contacts (i.e. each 'hop' adds individuals who were not counted previously counted in earlier 'hops').

Terrorism suspect: 1
Hop 1: 1 x 40 = 40
Hop 2: 40 x 39 = 1,560
Hop : 1,560 x 39 = 60,840

sum = 40 + 1,560 + 60,840 = 62,440

(Using 39 for Hops 2 and 3, assuming that if person A is a "contact" of person B, than Person B is also counted as a contact of person A, .)

I assume the >2.5 million figure was erroneously calculated by assuming 4 hops, and assuming that in each 'hop' the new individuals had 40 new contacts, not counting the individual who considered them a contact from the previous 'hop'. This gives 40 + 40^2 + 40^3 +40^4 = 2,625,640.

Don't get me wrong, records from an additional 62,440 individuals from 1 terrorism suspect is still way too many, in my opinion, but the figures here don't add up, unless I'm missing something.

John David Galt

The ACLU and NRA have a lot of things in common.

One is, I used to belong to both of them -- until I discovered that each one believes in only part of the Bill of Rights, and pees all over the other part.

If either or both organizations can get over that, you'd be welcome back in the freedom movement.

Vicki Bee

I can't believe you would even want anything to DO with the NRA. They think that you should be allowed to have a gun even if you're a maniacal murderer, and that we should do absolutely nothing to prevent MORE murderous people from having guns. Or making it so hard that the only way they can get a gun is to steal one.

I have absolutely NOTHING against the RIGHT people owning guns. My brother owns 20 firearms and nothing bad has ever happened with his rifles (unless you count deer-hunting as a bad thing and that's a matter of opinion, obviously.)
But even my brother is vastly disappointed with the fact that the NRA doesn't even like background checks, which do NOTHING AT ALL to stop law-abiding citizens from having a gun.

I have nothing against the right people owning guns and nobody will ever be able to accuse me of it.
I do OTOH have something against Adam Lanza, James Holmes and co. having guns they bought legally - they didn't even HAVE to steal them, they can buy them legally - then proving they were NEVER law-abiding citizens.

from a victim of a gunshot wound, who's been classified as a disability case ever since it happened.

Anonymous

If you are in Silicon Valley, VLAB (MIT-Stanford Venture Lab) is doing an event on Privacy on October 15th, from 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM at Stanford University (in Palo Alto, CA) - Vidalakis Dining Hall.

Panelists will include Philip Zimmerman (PGP + Silent Circle), Nico Sell (Wickr), and Casey Openheim (Disconnect) - who are bringing privacy back to the masses. FYI : in 1990 Philip Zimmermann (in 1990) developed PGP which the NSA could not crack, so they charged him with being an arms exporter (and defined encryption as a weapon - by 2000, charges were dropped).

The web site for the event is : http://www.vlab.org/article.html?aid=480

Naturally, the panel will look at technologies like data mining (and anti-data mining) and encryption. VLAB is interested in business opportunities for startups with disruptive technologies, the panel will be seeing what's possible.

In any case, it should be an interesting event. If you're in the area, you might want to check it out.

The Stoplight F...

To the American People,

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, we decided to do something about improving emergency response times and coordinating and managing threats in our schools. By developing our phone application called STOPLIGHT, we can reduce response times from minutes to seconds, and coordinate the safest route out of the building, and around the threat. We are currently developing an application called "Rebecca's List", It is a community upgradeable text and acronym key logging application, that flags inappropriate words and acronyms, and displays them on the parents phone along with their meaning, giving parents and teachers a powerful tool to dissolve bullying situations before they escalate into violence.

We are preparing for a crowd funding campaign, and would greatly appreciate your linking our site: stoplightfoundation.com, on your site and please include a few words about our anti-bullying and school shooting preparedness software.

We are a group of developers, teachers, and professionals from all industries. Our goal is to build this software and install it in every school in the US, at no cost to the school. We feel like our children are priceless, and deserve the best security available for our schools.

Thank You

Joel Thacker and Jimmy Redden

The Stoplight foundation

Anonymous

F*ck the NRA AND its "board of directors," which includes the laughable Ted kiss-my-backside Nugent.
The one who called women "brain-dead" and two OTHER names that I just can't remember b/c he's too BORing to retain any of the stupid sh*t that spews from him like he has diarrhea of the mouth.

Telling me the NRA supports something does NOTHING for me. They're more notable for what they DON'T believe in than anything they support, which DOESN'T include background checks for EVERYone, no exceptions.

And I don't believe Edward Snowden "did what he did b/c he cared about the entire country."
I think he cared about himSELF and that it's the ONLY one in which he took a devoted interest.
Just b/c a person does something that helps an entire nation doesn't mean his motives were virtuous. They were generated from self-interest and there's an interview of him to prove that's why he did it, and the words came from his own mouth as opposed to the reporter's interpretation.
It was a direct quote made by Snowden himself about being on a date and the government knowing about it. As if he could GET a date with no problem whatsoever. I guess he thinks most women prefer pencil-neck geeks.

Anonymous

I also don't care about anybody calling themselves "reporters for a free press."

I'll tell you what SOME news people considered a free press, and that was sneaking onto our property after I refused to let them talk to my traumatized teenage daughter right after her dad was literally burned out of existence in Tower 1 (we've never received any remains to prove he ever lived in this world.)
I told them I DIDN'T want her talking to them, and two of them responded to that request by creeping onto our property like common criminals and when I still said no invoking their "freedom of the press, freedom of the people who want to know" total garbage.
Why the hell would anyone want to know how my daughter's handling her dad's ungodly and untimely death when they've never met her, never will and the ones she DOES meet will force to deal with their nonsensical beliefs about what happened.
We've dealt with nothing but god-blessed IDIOTS since this whole thing began.
There ARE nice people in this world but none of them seem to exist in a situation where you and your family are visited by an unadulterated evil event.
I don't believe that lurking in the bushes on someone's property is a "right protected by the First Amendment."
Sorry, but I just don't - and if there really was one, why did they leave when Richard said he owns the house and wants them to leave or he'll have them arrested for trespassing on private property?
They didn't say ANYthing about First Amendment rights to HIM. They simply left without a hassle, but promised to talk to me again.

Sign Up for Breaking News