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Mozilla, ACLU, others join fight against NSA domestic spying

Congress, courts urged to take immediate action

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In response to the recent revelations of massive, secret surveillance programs conducted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), organizations, businesses, and activists across the country are taking action.

On Tuesday, Mozilla announced that it has assembled a broad coalition of almost 100 groups and individuals aimed at pressuring Congress to take action address the issue of domestic spying.

The American Civil Liberties Union, on the other hand, is taking a more combative approach, having filed a lawsuit against the involved agencies in federal court.

The Mozilla campaign, appropriately named StopWatching.Us, posted an open letter to Congress on Tuesday that has already garnered more than 27,000 signatures.

The letter condemns both the NSA programs revealed last week, including the mass monitoring of phone conversations and the so-called PRISM initiative, which involves widespread, unrestricted collection of multiple forms of user data from major online service providers:

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 and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that protect their right to privacy.

The letter calls upon Congress to take immediate action to reform sections of the Patriot Act, the state secrets privilege, and the recent amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to make it clear that blanket surveillance of US residents is against the law, whether it involves US citizens or not.

It also calls for a special Congressional committee to investigate the NSA's programs and practices, and issue a report revealing to the public the true extent of the agency's domestic spying, as well as making specific recommendations as to how to ensure that any unconstitutional surveillance programs are ended.

Finally, the letter's last demand is plain enough:

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

Among the organizations backing the StopWatching.Us effort are the American Library Association, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Greenpeace, the Internet Archive, MoveOn.org, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and many others.

"Now is the time for Congress to act," EFF attorney Mark Rumold said in a statement. "We don't need a narrow fix to one part of the PATRIOT Act; we need a full public accounting of how the United States is turning sophisticated spying technology on its own citizens, we need accountability from public officials, and we need an overhaul of the laws to ensure these abuses can never happen again."

A number of businesses have also joined the cause – including Amicus, BoingBoing, DSLReports.com, Namecheap, and Reddit, among others – as have such activists and thinkers as John Perry Barlow, Cory Doctorow, Xeni Jardin, and Alexis Ohanian.

Taking it to the courts

Meanwhile, not content with writing letters to Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union has brought the matter to a different branch of government – the judicial – by filing a lawsuit in federal court charging the NSA with violating multiple constitutional protections.

"The ACLU's complaint filed today explains that the dragnet surveillance the government is carrying out ... infringes upon the ACLU's First Amendment rights, including the twin liberties of free expression and free association," the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.

It added that the knowledge that the government is engaged in blanket monitoring of ACLU phone records might cause some people who would otherwise call the ACLU – many of whom might prefer to remain anonymous – to think twice.

"The kind of personal-data aggregation accomplished ... also constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment," the statement goes on to explain, adding that the NSA's activities violate the plain language of the relevant laws, which require data gathered to be "relevant" to ongoing foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigations.

The ACLU's suit was filed in the US District Court of the Southern District of New York, and names a number of prominent government officials as defendants, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander, Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

This latest effort joins the ACLU's earlier attempts to uncover the government's secret policy interpretations of the relevant laws through legal means, both through Freedom of Information Act requests and through an appeal to the FISA Court.

"When the government is claiming such chillingly expansive surveillance powers, it's all hands on deck," the ACLU's statement explains. "Stay tuned." ®

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