A group of people, including a former federal prosecutor and the parents of a Navy SEAL sniper killed in action, have filed a class-action law suit against the National Security Agency, Verizon and President Obama over the NSA’s collection of cell phone data. The suit says the order that enabled the surveillance program is “the broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued” and enables indiscriminate collection of data.

The suit, filed this week in federal court in Washington, D.C., also names Roger Vinson, the judge who signed the Verizon order, as a defendant, along with Attorney General Eric Holder and NSA Director Keith Alexander. The plaintiffs say that the NSA’s surveillance program violates the Constitution and unfairly and unnecessarily infringes on citizens’ privacy. The classified order directs Verizon to hand over all of the so-called metadata for calls on its network to the NSA. The metadata includes the originating and terminating phone numbers along with details of the call, but not the contents of the call.

“This would give the NSA over one hundred millions phone records on a daily basis. The information would also include a list of all the people that Verizon customers call and who called them; how long they spoke; and perhaps, where they were on a given day. Further, there is nothing in the order requiring the government to destroy the records after a certain amount of time nor is there any provisions limiting who can see and hear the data,” the suit says.

“The order, issued and signed by Judge Roger Vinson, violates the U.S. Constitution and also federal laws, including, but not limited to, the outrageous breach of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the due process rights of American citizens.”

The suit is filed on behalf of Larry Klayman, a federal prosecutor in the 1980s and founder of Freedom Watch, and Charles and Mary Ann Strange, the parents of Michael Strange, a member of SEAL Team Six who was killed in Afghanistan. They allege that the NSA surveillance program is illegal and violated Americans’ expectation of privacy and freedoms. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and relief from the NSA surveillance program.

Much of the outrage surrounding the revelation of the NSA surveillance program and collection of call metadata centers on the fact that the program is collecting information on Americans’ calls, something that is supposed to be outside the agency’s purview.

“Based on knowledge and belief, this Order issued by Defendant Vinson is the broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued; it requires no level of reasonable suspicion or probable cause and incredibly applies to all Verizon subscribers and users anywhere in the United States and overseas,” the suit says.

“To date, Defendants have not issued substantive and meaningful explanations to the American people describing what has occurred. To the contrary, criminal charges are reportedly being pursued by Defendants Obama, Holder, the DOJ, and the NSA against the leakers of this plot against American citizens in a further effort suppress, obstruct justice, and to keep Defendants’ illegal actions as secret as possible.”

The law suit is the first to emerge in the wake of the NSA leaks, which began last week with a series of articles in The Guardian and The Washington Post about the data collection from Verizon as well as a second program, known as PRISM, through which the NSA allegedly collects user data from a group of major Internet companies, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. Obama and other administration officials have sought to calm fears about the programs by saying that the government isn’t listening to the content of citizens’ phone calls.

The suit by Klayman alleges that the NSA programs violate the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

“Defendants Obama, Holder, Alexander, and Vinson’s acts chill, if not ‘kill,’ speech by instilling in Plaintiffs, members of the Class, and over a hundred million of Americans the fear that their personal and business conversations with other U.S. citizens and foreigners are in effect tapped and illegally surveyed,” the suit says.

Image from the Flickr photostream of The COM Library.

Categories: Government, Privacy