A coalition of activist and advocacy groups have joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a lawsuit against the National Security Agency and FBI, alleging that the government's collection of phone metadata is a violation of their First Amendment rights. The most pervasive, technologically advanced surveillance system in the world could end up hobbled by a Los Angeles church, some gunsellers, and a few marijuana advocates. As was prophesied.
The lawsuit (which can be read in full at the bottom of this post) focuses on the First Amendment right to assembly. A post at the EFF's blog explains why the collection of metadata on phone records—collection revealed by Edward Snowden and reported last month—infringes on that right.
"People who hold controversial views – whether it's about gun ownership policies, drug legalization, or immigration – often must express views as a group in order to act and advocate effectively," said [EFF legal director Cindy] Cohn. "But fear of individual exposure when participating in political debates over high-stakes issues can dissuade people from taking part. That's why the Supreme Court ruled in 1958 that membership lists of groups have strong First Amendment protection. Telephone records, especially complete records collected over many years, are even more invasive than membership lists, since they show casual or repeated inquiries as well as full membership."
Should there be any question about the government's willingness to investigate participants in such groups, you don't have to look very far back in history to see examples. (The ACLU, in fact, has a database of such instances.) During the Iraq War, the FBI infiltrated peace groups with the goal of investigating their activities.