NSA lawsuit gets help

Court of Appeals agrees to expedite case over phone records collection

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COEUR d'ALENE - The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho have joined Anna Smith's legal team in her challenge of the government's bulk collection of telephone records.

Smith, an emergency neonatal nurse and pregnant mother of two in North Idaho, filed her suit against President Barack Obama and several U.S. intelligence agencies shortly after the government confirmed revelations that the National Security Agency was conducting bulk collection of telephone records under a section of the Patriot Act.

Smith, a customer of Verizon wireless, one of the companies that was ordered to disclose records to the NSA, argued the program violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights by collecting a wealth of detail about her personal and professional associations.

"When I found out that the NSA was collecting records of my phone calls, I was shocked," said Smith, who is represented by her husband, Coeur d'Alene attorney Peter J. Smith, and Idaho state Rep. Luke Malek, of Coeur d'Alene.

"I have heard of other governments spying indiscriminately on their own citizens, but I naively thought it did not happen in America," Smith said. "I believe who I call, when I call them, and how long we talk is not something the government should be able to get without a warrant."

"We are excited to have more experience and passion that matches ours in Anna's fight for what we believe is the future of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in America," Malek told The Press Wednesday.

"We are excited to have the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union assist in the case," said Peter Smith. "The collaboration makes sense because we all share the view that the daily collection of Anna's private phone records by the NSA violates her Fourth Amendment rights."

Anna Smith decided to file a lawsuit because she believes the U.S. Constitution protects her calls from government searches.

"I am thrilled that the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed to assist us in this case," Anna Smith said. "What Americans can reasonably expect to remain private is an issue of monumental importance."

When U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill dismissed her case, he expressed concerns about the privacy implications of the NSA's surveillance. But he also said that he believed that a 1979 Supreme Court case about targeted surveillance tied his hands. Smith is now appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU each have litigated numerous First and Fourth Amendment lawsuits, including ongoing cases over this NSA program.

The ACLU is a plaintiff in a case currently pending before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to be heard in early September. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has two cases before the Northern California federal court.

Smith v. Obama represents another opportunity, the groups said.

"Anna Smith proves that a single citizen has the power to stand up for her rights and challenge the government when it tramples them," Electronic Frontier Foundation legal director Cindy Cohn said. "EFF is proud to lend our expertise in pursuing her appeal, which could very well be one of the cases that makes it to the Supreme Court."

The court has granted Smith's motion to expedite the case, with the opening brief due Sept. 2.

"The call records program needlessly invades the privacy of millions of people," said ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer. "Even the president has acknowledged that the NSA does not need to collect information about every phone call in order to track the associations of suspected terrorists. Dragnet surveillance on this scale is both unconstitutional and unnecessary."

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