NSA surveillance program violates the constitution, ACLU says

US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the current and future worldwide threats to the national security of the United StatesBy Karen McVeigh

The National Security Agency’s mass tracking and collection of Americans’ phone call data violates the constitution, has a chilling effect on first amendment rights and should be halted, accord to a court motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday.

In a detailed, legal critique of the NSA programme, the ACLU warned that such long-term surveillance “permits the government to assemble a richly detailed profile of every person living in the United States and to draw a comprehensive map of their associations with one another.”

The motion is part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in June, one of several against the NSA following the Guardian’s disclosures via whistleblower Edward Snowden, of the agency’s mass surveillance of US citizens. Documents from Snowden revealed a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order directing Verizon to give the NSA all call detail records or “metadata” relating to every domestic and international call for three months, in a court direction that is renewed on an ongoing basis.

It “allows surveillance that is essentially indefinite”, the motion says.

The ACLU document is peppered with quotes from literary, academic and other sources, to illustrate the danger of mass surveillance by the government, including the writings of George Orwell and The Lives of Others, an award-winning movie about the monitoring of East Berlin by the Stazi by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

In statements after the programme was disclosed, intelligence and government officials have stressed that the NSA does not collect the contents of US calls, only the “metadata”, such as the numbers called, the duration and timing of the calls. The information, they say, can only be interrogated if they suspect terrorism.

The legal motion argues that the NSA programme, which the agency says is used for counter-terrorism, has overstepped its bounds. Quoting Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, the author of the Patriot Act in 2001, it says the NSA has “scoop[ed] up the entire ocean to . . . catch a fish.”

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