ACLU Sues Feds Over Surveillance Program

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the federal government over the National Security Agency's phone and Internet surveillance program.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Let the legal battles begin. The first major lawsuit has been filed after the recent revelations about government data gathering. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union took aim at a National Security Agency program that collects phone call records on American citizens. The ACLU lawsuit says the program violates the Constitution and oversteps the authority that Congress gave national security officials under the Patriot Act.

NPR's Carrie Johnson is here with us to talk about the case. And, Carrie, what basis does the ACLU have for filing the suit?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Well, the ACLU says it's a customer of Verizon Business Network Services. Audie, that's the unit that was subject to a secret court order that was published by The Guardian newspaper last week, and the order requires Verizon to turn over on a daily basis some phone call records to national security officials.

The ACLU lawsuit says that practice chills lawyers and clients under the First Amendment, the right to free speech, and the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy. And the ACLU lawsuit says it's like snatching the address books of millions of Americans. Finally, the ACLU lawsuit wants the program to stop, and it wants all the records the National Security Agency has already collected to be destroyed.

CORNISH: Now, there have been lots of lawsuits over wiretapping programs during the Bush years, but those suits didn't go anywhere. So is this going to be any different?

JOHNSON: There's a little wrinkle this time, Audie. Those past cases usually floundered because the plaintiffs in the case, the people suing, could not show they had been surveilled or had suffered any harm. Here, because the secret order has been published, the ACLU can say it was surveilled, and it can show some harm.

U.S. officials have acknowledged this program, which could complicate efforts to throw it out under the state secrets theory. But the Obama administration, of course, is going to fight tooth and nail to avoid more disclosures about this program. I think it's safe to predict a long and extended legal battle ahead here.

CORNISH: Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. She was talking about the ACLU's lawsuit against the Obama administration for collecting domestic phone data.

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