The ACLU suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, challenges the legality of the spy agency’s collection of customer “metadata,” including the phone numbers dialed and the length of calls. The lawsuit asks the court to force the government to end the program and purge any records it has collected, and to declare that the surveillance is unconstitutional.
The program, details of which were first disclosed by the Guardian, collects such information, used by intelligence analysts to detect patterns and personal connections, on every phone call made or received by U.S. customers of major American phone companies. The once-secret program was acknowledged last week by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who is named in the ACLU lawsuit.
The disclosures of the NSA’s operations have generated concern across party lines, illustrated Tuesday by sharp criticism and new requests on Capitol Hill from members of President Obama’s party.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs, has asked the NSA’s director to declassify some information to better explain the programs. Senior intelligence and Justice Department officials also briefed House lawmakers late Tuesday on the NSA’s phone-tracking program, according to lawmakers who attended.
The debate surrounding the surveillance has revived an unresolved question of post-Sept. 11 American life — how much privacy should be sacrificed to enhance security. It has also brought new scrutiny on Obama’s promise to better strike that balance after what he has called the national security excesses of the George W. Bush administration.
Early Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, accused Clapper of failing to give a “straight answer” about the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs during a committee hearing in March.
During that open hearing, Wyden, a longtime critic of the administration’s surveillance policy, asked Clapper whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper responded, “No, sir.”
But the recent disclosures of the NSA surveillance initiatives, which the Obama administration says are separately authorized under the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), has focused attention on the truthfulness of Clapper’s response.
In addition to the phone-
records collection, The Post reported on a surveillance program known as PRISM, which allows the government to collect video, photos, e-mails, documents and connection logs for the users of nine leading Internet companies. The government obtained the data through orders approved by the secret court established by FISA.