The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 over what they refer to as a “dragnet” by the administration with its recently exposed PRISM program. PRISM, which was exposed last week by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden, presumably collects all manner of logs on domestic calls, E-mails, uploaded files and Internet activity directly from nine of the largest Internet corporations.
The ACLU is contending that the PRISM program is illegal and they are asking the federal judge to put a stop to the program and order that all the records collected thus far be purged and destroyed entirely.
Many legal analysts said such a lawsuit could very well end up in the hands of the Supreme Court due to the complexity of how the NSA and FBI use the data. In the suit the ACLU’s complaint reads in part that the program gives, “the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations.” The ACLU further adds, that the surveillance program “is likely to have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and others who would otherwise contact” the A.C.L.U. for legal assistance.
When the vast majority of lawsuits were made against the Justice Department in the past, they were often thrown out due to the fact it would reveal the surveillance tactics, and therefore it would jeopardize the program. The difference with the PRISM program is that its secrets, if true, have been revealed by the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. It is also important to note that the Obama administration nor the NSA have denied Snowden’s disclosure of PRISM, and have only defended the program’s usage.
Congress has never openly voted nor authorized such a broad sweeping program to capture ‘metadata’ from the Internet, and particularly from Internet heavyweights such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and so forth, which essentially have most of the world’s Internet users as customers in some way or another.
James R. Clapper Jr., who serves as the director of national intelligence, claims that officials may only access the metadata if they can get a legal justification that has to be based on a specific act or acts and in association with foreign terrorism. He further added that all requests are audited and approved by the secret national security court.
Snowden’s disclosure about PRISM contradict all that the Obama Administration has defended about the program. Snowden even said that he had unhindered access to all the information available just by looking it up with no need to go through chain of command in order to do so.
The only type of case to reach the high court regarding broad surveillance by the federal government was 2012 Supreme Court case regarding GPS tracking devices. The SC’s opinion was that any long-term usage of such a device that collected information on where and when a person moved around would be infringing on the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Also on Tuesday, three of the Internet’s biggest heavyweights made an official request to reveal how data requests work. Facebook, Google and Microsoft all asked the federal government for permission to offer the public details about how classified requests are received by them and also personal information on users from outside the U.S.
Currently the collection of such data, which includes photos, stored documents in the cloud, videos, and E-mails, are considered legal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but companies are not allowed to inform their customers how this surveillance works.
The request came about directly due to the revelations regarding the NSA’s secret Internet surveillance program known as PRISM.
Google has been the most vocal about Internet surveillance and they want to let their customers see exactly what is going on behind the scenes, so to speak. Google was also the first company to acknowledge that they do receive FISA requests, but they do not necessarily comply with all of the requests that are received.
The ACLU says they are not buying what Google and other companies are saying and claim they are only coming forward to quiet down any dissension that is growing over privacy. For many years tech giants have assured their customers that their data is secure, but with the latest leak concerning the NSA became known, more and more customers are demanding to know more.
Thus far, sites such as Reddit, 4chan, Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU are among nearly 100 popular organizations that have signed a letter demanding that such a broad sweeping surveillance to end, if it is indeed what Snowden describes. The letter can be signed and read at the website “StopWatching.us” and reads in part, “This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously…”
The recent revelations concerning PRISM have opened up the proverbial can of worms, and according to the Guardian and Washington Post, more information may come to light in the very near future.