The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government, demanding the release of information about its program to conduct surveillance of Americans’ international communications.
The civil rights group pointed to former CIA employee Edward Snowden – who blew the lid off the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program, insisting until the disclosures, little was known about the NSA’s authority.
The ACLU says that while questions remain, what is clear is that the government has been sweeping up “Americans’ international communications without any court order and with little oversight.”
The group said in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in New York on Monday, that a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency have refused to make many documents public under the Freedom of Information Act.
The lawsuit requests that the court mandate that the agencies turn over the documents. The lawsuit points to Executive Order 12,333, signed by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which allows the surveillance of foreigners outside the United States. The Obama Administration has pointed to it to justify the NSA’s actions.
The lawsuit contends that under the order, however, the NSA has been gathering information of “countless Americans," including “nearly 5 billion records per day on the location of cell phones, including Americans' cell phones."
The ACLU also wants to find out what protections Americans have if their communications are intercepted for the sake of national security.
A spokesman for the Justice Department told Reuters that the government would respond to the complaint in court.
Alex Abdo, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said in a blog post that the government is conducting surveillance “under its own executive order without any real oversight. We now know too well that unchecked surveillance authority can lead to dangerous overreach. That's why we are fighting for the release of documents that would shed light on the internal rules that the executive has set for itself when it monitors international communications abroad — including Americans' international communications.”
President Obama said at his end-of-the-year press conference on Dec. 20 that he’d make a “definitive statement” on potential NSA reforms sometime in January. A White House review panel released a report this week calling for new limits on National Security Agency’s program.
“I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around, but I also recognize that as technologies change…we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence.”