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Privacy warriors haul NSA into court, demand swift end to mass call snooping

Groups argue for free speech protections to block spying

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A collection of civil-liberties campaigners has called on a US federal court to summarily block government agencies from monitoring phones.

The optimistic bunch, which includes the EFF, claims that large-scale collection of call metadata is preventing them from carrying out their day-to-day business, and threatens protections on free speech. Such data includes the time of calls, who spoke and their locations.

The group – which also includes churches, civil-rights advocates and freedom activists – argues in its lawsuit filed in California that the NSA's ability to gather these sensitive records is causing innocent citizens to become fearful that their private calls are being snooped on.

David Greene, senior staff attorney with the EFF, told The Reg that such conditions are preventing people from being able to conduct business for fear that their privacy will be violated. In doing so, the plaintiffs argue that the freedom to associate (a key tenet of the Bill of Rights) has been placed in jeopardy.

As well as arguing for these constitutional protections, the plaintiffs have now asked for summary judgments that would halt the massive collection on phone conversations and help cut domestic surveillance programs, which they believe have reached too far into the lives of Americans.

Also at issue is the NSA's use of a key provision in the US Patriot Act dubbed Section 215 that allows authorities to collect business records if they are related to an investigation of terrorist activity.

The EFF argues that the provision has been taken out of context by authorities, who are now using it to collect large swaths of phone records. This, combined with the worries of violating the First Amendment, says Greene, is enough for the EFF and its clients to push the court for a summary judgement.

This latest effort is part of a campaign which the EFF helped to launch in July of this year. The legal team believes that the effort can help to place stronger limits on key aspects of government surveillance programs. ®

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