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UUSC Joins Surveillance Lawsuit
Friday, July 19, 2013
Rights such as freedom of association and privacy, referred to as civil liberties, are fundamental to the exercise of democratic processes, and UUSC supports domestic and international initiatives that are working at the grassroots level to secure them. UUSC has joined 19 other co-plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit (First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA) that seeks to stop the mass collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency (NSA). The lawsuit, filed on July 16 in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, asks that the NSA recognize this program as unconstitutional and seeks to have the records returned or destroyed.
The untargeted nature of the NSA's information collection program threatens the right to freedom from arbitrary government intrusion. This right is guaranteed for millions of innocent Americans in the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states in Article 12: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence." The UDHR also confers to everyone "the right to the protection of the law against such interference," which is why a legal challenge to the NSA information collection program is so important right now.
Advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is representing the co-plaintiffs in this case, have long alleged that this type of bulk collection has been occurring. The revelation of extensive NSA surveillance programs, including records collection, by former government employee Edward Snowden in June, however, pressured the government to admit to it. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that the collection was "broad in scope" and conducted under a provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The suit claims that the data collection program violates the U.S. Constitution on several grounds, including the First Amendment right of association. By accessing the "metadata" of organizations and their members, the government is able to track the associations of these organizations. This can have a chilling effect on individuals, who will be less likely to associate with organizations if they know the government is watching and tracking their associations. The lawsuit also claims constitutional violations of individuals' reasonable expectation of privacy and freedom from unnecessary search and seizure.
UUSC joins the EFF lawsuit on behalf of its members and staff, who bring people together to advance human rights and social justice through advocacy, education, and partnerships. The co-plaintiffs represent a broad range of groups from across the political spectrum that focus on various policy issues and sometimes have different opinions on those issues. The right to associate and to be free from unnecessary government monitoring, however, is something on which all involved can agree and work together to protect. UUSC is proud to be part of this and will continue to track the progress of the lawsuit.
UPDATE: July 29, 2013
For more information, check out these articles:
- "If Snowden Isn’t a Whistleblower, Why Are His Disclosures on NSA Spying Having This Effect?" by Kevin Gosztola, Firedoglake
- "Lawsuit by 19 groups seeks to halt NSA snooping," by David Kravets, CNN/Wired.com
- "Privacy groups led by EFF sue to stop NSA and FBI electronic surveillance," Guardian/AP
- "L.A. church joins lawsuit against government surveillance," by Donald E. Skinner, UU World
UPDATE: September 10, 2013
Five additional organizations have joined the lawsuit against the National Security Agency regarding surveillance practices. For more information, please read the press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.