NRA Joins Lawsuit Over Snowden Phone Data

Monday, 17 Mar 2014 10:59 AM

By Joe Battaglia

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In a continuing effort to protect the privacy interests of gun owners, the National Rifle Association filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Friday in the National Security Agency spying case.

The brief  supports the American Civil Liberties Union's request for reversal of a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that deemed lawful all of the domestic telephone data gathered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In December, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III issued a 53-page decision that upheld that the NSA's data collection program, which accumulates virtually all Americans' phone records, did not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful search and seizure.

In its friend of the court brief, the NRA continued to argue that NSA data collection violates freedom of association protection guaranteed under the First Amendment.

"The mass surveillance program 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 brief states.

In his original ruling, Pauley found that the claimed chilling effect of the NSA programs was too speculative to be deemed a substantial intrusion on First Amendment rights.

"There is no evidence that the Government has used any of the bulk [telephone] metadata it collected for any purpose other than investigating and disrupting terrorist attacks," he wrote.

The NRA's second point of contention centers on its belief that the data collection programs could undermine the privacy protection of gun owners. Current federal law prohibits the creation of a registry of firearms or firearm owners.

According to the NRA, the government maintains that its surveillance program collects only metadata, and the content of communications remains private.

The NRA counters that argument with a recent study in which two graduate students at Stanford University collected telephone metadata on volunteers over a few months and discovered exactly how much private information they were able to glean.

"We found that phone metadata is unambiguously sensitive, even in a small population and over a short time window," Jonathan Mayer and Patrick Mutchler wrote in their study.  "We were able to infer medical conditions, firearm ownership, and more, using solely phone metadata."

On the specific issue of firearm ownership, the authors of the study determined that one of the volunteers likely was interested in firearms and specifically in AR-15 pattern rifles. The volunteer later confirmed that information to be true.

"This type of information is particularly sensitive at a time when some government officials at both the state and federal levels are showing increasing hostility toward individual gun ownership, and when interest in a particular type of firearm may bring an individual under close governmental scrutiny because of that firearm's disfavored status," the NRA wrote in a statement.


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