NSA Backlash: Groups Demand End to Surveillance Programs, Lawsuit Launched Against Obama

Tim Berners-Lee


European politicians are not the only people perturbed by the extent of the National Security Agency’s recently revealed secret surveillance programs. A group of more than 80 organizations and Internet companies have banded together to demand Congress put a stop to the spy agency’s mass collection of private data.

On Tuesday the group launched a website, StopWatching.Us, which calls for an inquiry into the scale of the of the NSA’s surveillance initiatives. The campaign comes following a series of disclosures last week by the Guardian and the Washington Post about the NSA’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records and surveillance of Internet communications, revealed by Edward Snowden, an NSA whistle-blower who unmasked himself Sunday in a video alleging that the agency “specifically targets the communications of everyone.”

StopWatching.Us is backed by the World Wide Web Foundation, a group founded by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web. Its other supporters include the American Library Association, the ACLU, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Mozilla, the Open Technology Institute, and Reddit. The diverse coalition is demanding that Congress “take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data-collection programs.” It specifically calls on lawmakers to:

1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make it clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court.

2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance.

3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.

The campaign is unlikely to trigger any immediate halt of the NSA’s surveillance efforts. But it will certainly ramp up pressure on lawmakers to take decisive action over the spying as opposition in Congress mounts. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, (R-Wis.), one of the authors of the Patriot Act, has come out criticizing the mass grabbing of millions of phone records as “excessive and un-American.” Meanwhile, Rand Paul, (R-Ky.), is trying to rally the support of 10 million Americans for a class action suit that he wants to take to the Supreme Court in order to challenge the “unconstitutional” surveillance. A separate lawsuit has already been launched in the District of Columbia, alleging that the mass monitoring of phone records “violates the U.S. Constitution and also federal laws.”

Until the recent leaks, more of which are set to be published soon, it had proved nearly impossible to challenge U.S. government surveillance programs due to the level of secrecy shrouding them. But the disclosure of details concerning the NSA’s spying efforts could finally give Americans standing in the courts—leading to an endless stream of lengthy lawsuits and causing a major headache for the Obama administration in the process.

Update, June 11, 2013, 5:36 p.m.: The ACLU announced Tuesday afternoon that it has launched its own legal challenge over the NSA’s surveillance of Verizon customers’ phone records. The group is alleging that the monitoring program violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and association as well as the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment. Alex Abdo, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement: “The Constitution does not permit the suspicionless surveillance of every person in the country.”