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Can you hear us now? Broad coalition sues NSA over 'illegal' telephone surveillance dragnet

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A diverse coalition of 19 groups announced today a lawsuit against the United States government for "an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance," known as the Associational Tracking Program, which collects all telephone records handled by Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint in the US. The group, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, aims to compel the government to inventory and disclose the records in its possession, to destroy them, and to immediately end the surveillance program.

"The bulk collection of telephone communications information without a valid, particularized warrant supported by probable cause violates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, as well as statutory prohibitions and limitations on electronic surveillance," the suit alleges. "The program collects information concerning all calls wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls, as well as all calls between the United States and abroad, regardless of a connection to international terrorism, reasonable suspicion of criminality, or any other form of wrongdoing."

"The bulk collection violates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments."

The surveillance program was revealed on June 6th when The Guardian reported that Verizon has been amassing metadata records on every telephone call made in the country over the past seven years. The Wall Street Journal quickly corroborated that report, and confirmed that AT&T and Sprint have also been involved in the NSA's telephone data collection program. The program is enabled by Section 215 of the Patriot Act: a controversial law that allows the government to conduct surveillance based on broad warrants for a wide variety of records, even if there is no connection to terrorism.

The coalition filing suit today joins other groups that are challenging the program, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. But so far, resistance to the government's surveillance programs have not fared well in courts.

The suit is represented by a diverse coalition, including Public Knowledge, the Open Technology Institute, Free Press, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, the Council on Islamic Relations, the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, Media Alliance, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The Verge will continue to follow these suits as they develop; as Wired notes, the government has yet to respond to the allegations in court.

Read More: Metadata matters: how phone records and obsolete laws harm privacy and the free press