WASHINGTON – Today People For the American Way, together with a broad spectrum of other organizations and represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law firm of Keker & Van Nest, filed a lawsuit to challenge the unconstitutional NSA surveillance program that collects millions of Americans’ telephone records. The case, First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, challenges the surveillance program as an unconstitutional violation of the organizations’ First Amendment right to freedom of association.
“The NSA’s unchecked collection of Americans’ telephone records, including the telephone records of organizations like PFAW, is a blatantly unconstitutional attack on our civil liberties,” said People For the American Way President Michael Keegan. “The Supreme Court has long recognized the right of membership organizations like ours to freely associate with their members and keep their lists private. That’s incompatible with a surveillance scheme that captures the identity of every person who calls to join our policy briefings or who gets contacted by our membership team. There’s no question that this creates a dangerous chilling effect and impedes our associational rights, as well as those of our members. Our Constitution protects the freedom to gather together in groups to advocate around a set of beliefs without undue government interference. The sweeping collection of Americans’ telephone records is a profoundly problematic infringement on fundamental constitutional rights.”
People For the American Way has long been an advocate for protecting our civil rights and liberties. Earlier this year, PFAW launched a petition to repeal the dangerous provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, which granted overly broad powers regarding surveillance to the executive branch. The petition has garnered nearly 67,000 signatures to date. In addition, affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has filed two amicus briefs in related NSA surveillance cases, including one in support of the Hepting v. AT&T plaintiffs in 2006 and one in support of the Jewel v. NSA plaintiffs last year.
The filed complaint is available here.
In the wake of revelations about the scope of government surveillance programs, People For the American Way called for a renewed debate about fixing or repealing the deeply flawed PATRIOT Act. People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement:
“The revelations that have appeared in the media in recent days underscore the urgency of a new and vigorous debate about the PATRIOT Act. The powers the PATRIOT Act grants to the executive branch were dangerously broad when it was passed, and they’re dangerously broad now. While it remains to be seen whether the government complied with the law, it seems evident neither the standard of judicial review for the authorization of surveillance activities nor the one-sided nature of the process has adequately protected our constitutional right to privacy.
“Even worse, the law as it is written and interpreted cripples our public debate about how we balance our security and our liberty. Congressional critics of the PATRIOT Act have been prevented from speaking publicly and ordinary citizens have been left in the dark about what’s being done in their name. That’s no way to run a democracy.”