The National Rifle Association has joined a lawsuit against the federal government's sweeping surveillance program, claiming the collection of phone records and other data violates First Amendment rights and amounts to an illegal gun registry.
In supporting the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit, the NRA on Wednesday filed a supporting brief arguing the National Security Agency's datamining "could allow identification of NRA members, supporters, potential members, and other persons with whom the NRA communicates, potentially chilling their willingness to communicate with the NRA."
The NSA's phone database would let the government track whether gun owners called the NRA, gun stores, shooting ranges or others.
The brief also says the database "could allow the government to circumvent legal protections for Americans' privacy, such as laws that guard against the registration of guns or gun owners," thereby creating an illegal "national gun registry."
The ACLU welcomed the gun group's support.
"Americans from across the political spectrum value individual privacy," ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer told Reuters. "The philosophical roots may differ, but I think that is a widely shared American value."
In addition, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several news organizations - including Fox, National Public Radio, Bloomberg News and The New Yorker - and Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin filed supporting briefs. Sensenbrenner is a co-author of the 2001 Patriot Act, which the NSA has cited as the basis of the surveillance.
"The defendants attempt to justify their practice of collecting the records of every telephone call made to or from the United States, including purely domestic calls, by claiming that Congress intended to authorize precisely such a program," Sensenbrenner's brief argues. "But Congress intended no such thing."
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York, seeks to halt the NSA's phone-tracking program and have the agency delete all call records.
Michael Winter, USA TODAY