DETROIT -- Responding to reports that phone companies are enabling illegal government spying by turning over private details about Americans’ telephone calls to the National Security Agency, the American Civil Liberties Union today sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission demanding an investigation.
In addition, 20 ACLU state affiliates today filed complaints with Public Utility Commissions or sent letters to state Attorneys General and other officials demanding investigations into whether local telecommunications companies allowed the NSA to spy on their customers. These affiliates include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
“We believe that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We expected once the government admitted to conducting warrantless wiretaps on law-abiding Americans, that there would be much more to uncover. The most recent revelation that phone companies have been turning over private records, however, has surprised everyone. The President’s actions are a clear abuse of power and, through today’s actions; we hope to begin to learn the full extent of that abuse. We do not seek to obstruct legitimate law enforcement activities, but we are determined to stand up for the fundamental privacy and due process rights of people whose telephone records have been divulged without a warrant, notice or consent.”
The letter to the FCC points to the phone companies’ denials of wrongdoing as well as recent attempts by the Bush administration -- via a Presidential Memorandum -- to immunize the companies from some liability for false statements they make in concealing matters of “national security.”
In complaints sent to state utilities commissions and other officials around the country, the ACLU is calling for investigations into the unlawful sharing of billions of consumers’ call records with the NSA. If the sharing is found to be in violation of state law, the ACLU is urging that officials issue “cease-and-desist” orders to the telecommunications companies in their state.
“We cannot sit by while the government and the phone companies collude in this massive, illegal and fundamentally un-American invasion of our privacy,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “And unfortunately, we cannot wait for Congress to act.”
“We are seeking to create the perfect storm to end illegal NSA spying,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program.
When the NSA spying program was initially uncovered last December, the ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed one of the first legal challenges, acting on behalf of a prominent and politically diverse group of journalists, scholars and lawyers. That challenge will be heard before Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit on Monday, June 12. It will be the first ever hearing on the legality of NSA spying since the program was disclosed.
More information on the case is online at www.aclu.org/nsaspying