Eclectic group sues US government over phone data surveillance

SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS) - A diverse collection of groups, including a gun manufacturer and marijuana legalisation advocates, sued the United States (US) government on Tuesday, alleging that the National Security Agency (NSA) conducts unlawful dragnet surveillance of telephone calls.

The lawsuit, filed in a Northern California federal court, follows disclosures about NSA surveillance programs by fugitive former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The suit targets the NSA's "Associational Tracking Program," which collects phone information from all major American telecommunication companies, including time and duration of calls.

A US Department of Justice spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The group of 18 plaintiffs - including a Unitarian church, an Islamic advocacy group and a gun rights organisation - subscribe to Verizon and other phone carriers, the lawsuit said.

They are represented by the Electronics Frontier Foundation, data privacy advocates who have already been litigating for years against warrantless wiretapping under former President George W. Bush.

Last week, a San Francisco federal judge rejected government arguments that the older case should be dismissed because it would compromise state secrets and damage national security.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday seeks an injunction against the operation of the Associational Tracking Program, along with the return and destruction of communication information possessed by the NSA.

The NSA's bulk collection of communication information is done without probable cause that the plaintiffs are engaged in any crime or international terrorist activity, the lawsuit says.

The White House said on Tuesday that Snowden, who applied for temporary asylum in Russia after spending three weeks in limbo at a Moscow airport, should be returned to the US to face trial on espionage charges.

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