NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Obama administration Tuesday, asking the government to halt a phone-tracking program that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans and that it says is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union.
"The practice is akin to snatching every American's address book — with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where," the lawsuit says. "It gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations."
The lawsuit — which names as defendants the heads of national intelligence as well as the agencies they lead, including the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice — also asks the court to purge phone records collected under the program, claiming the government action violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution.
The Department of Justice did not immediately return a call seeking comment. President Barack Obama has defended the program and says privacy must be balanced with security.
Last week, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 issued an order granting the NSA permission to collect telephone records of millions of Verizon customers. The order was good until July 19, the newspaper said.
The order requires Verizon, one of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.
The ACLU claims standing as a former customer of Verizon, adding that the government likely has much of its metadata stored in its databases.
The suit also alleges the government's program exceeds the congressional authority provided by the Patriot Act and singles out a particular provision that has given the government more leeway in obtaining various records for intelligence investigations.
"The fact that the government is collecting this information is likely to have a chilling effect on people who would otherwise contact Plaintiffs," the suit says.