Last week, The Guardian reported that under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the NSA has been acquiring the metadata for every phone call (wireless and landline) made or received by customers of Verizon Business Network on an ongoing basis. The government confirmed that an order was issued by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requiring Verizon business Network to turn over metadata about the calls made by each of its subscribers over the 3 month period ending on July 19, 2013.
The ACLU is a non-profit group that has historically fought to protect individual freedoms both implicit and explicit in our constitution—freedom of speech, equality, due process, privacy etc. So it’s no surprise that the ACLU, a current customer of the Verizon Business Network, and New York ACLU, a former customer, filed suit against the Obama Administration claiming that the government’s surveillance under Section 215 is violative of the First and Fourth Amendments because it allows the government sensitive and privileged information about both their work and clients.
It is the ACLU’s contention that this government surveillance of phone calls can be used to identify those who contact plaintiffs for legal assistance or to report human rights or civil liberties violations. In the specific context for which the Patriot Act was enacted this is particularly problematic as the ACLU has in the past represented alleged terrorists (see Hamdi v. Rumsfeld). So it’s pretty clear that the government’s surveillance of phone calls of Verizon business Network customers has the potential to frustrate the ACLU’s goals of promoting and protecting individual liberties of its clients.
Alison Frimmel, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research