In a detailed legal attack on the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone call data, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in court papers filed Monday that the sweeping data gathering violates the Constitution and should be halted. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/us/nsa-phone-data-collection-is-illegal-aclu-says.html?ref=us The A.C.L.U. cited the writings of George Orwell and the comprehensive East German surveillance portrayed in the film “The Lives of Others” in warning of the dangers of large-scale government intrusion into private lives.
Edward W. Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton, said that by gathering data on the three billion calls made each day in the United States, the N.S.A. was creating a database that could reveal some of the most intimate secrets of American citizens.
“Calling patterns can reveal when we are awake and asleep; our religion, if a person regularly makes no calls on the Sabbath or makes a large number of calls on Christmas Day; our work habits and our social aptitude; the number of friends we have, and even our civil and political affiliations,” Mr. Felten wrote.
He pointed out that calls to certain numbers — a government fraud hot line, say, or a sexual assault hot line — or a text message that automatically donates to Planned Parenthood can reveal intimate details. He also said sophisticated data analysis, using software that can instantly trace chains of social connections, can make metadata even more revealing than the calls’ contents.
The lawsuit also charges that the data collection violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause by imposing “a far-reaching chill” on the A.C.L.U.’s interaction with clients and sources.
“Americans do not expect that their government will make a note every time they pick up the phone of whom they call, precisely when they call them and for precisely how long they speak,” the group wrote.