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NRA Supports Lawsuit Challenging NSA's Mass Surveillance and Collection Program

Friday, September 6, 2013

NRA supports the whole Constitution, and demonstrated that support this week by weighing in on an issue that's been of concern for decades.

On Wednesday, NRA filed a "friend of the court" brief in federal district court supporting an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency's (NSA) phone records surveillance and collection program.  The massive NSA data-mining program collects the records of millions of Americans.

First among the "Purposes and Objectives" listed in NRA's Bylaws is "[t]o protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," and especially the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Constitution. The NRA's activities in support of that purpose have long included legislative advocacy and litigation concerning the rights of the NRA and its members to associate and communicate freely under the First Amendment (also demonstrated by our opposition to so-called campaign finance "reform" legislation), and the protection of gun owners against intrusive government surveillance or recordkeeping, such as the establishment of systems to register or compile lists of firearms or the owners of firearms.

NRA also stands second to no organization in its support for legitimate law enforcement, military, and national security activities to defend our nation against terrorism. Countless NRA members, including NRA employees, have served in that fight.

At the same time, NRA historically has made clear that counter-terrorism efforts must be conducted within the bounds of the Constitution.

The NRA brief argues that NSA's mass surveillance program threatens the rights of NRA and its members because it "could allow identification of NRA members, supporters, potential members, and other persons with whom the NRA communicates, potentially chilling their willingness to communicate with NRA."  Further, the brief argues that the mass surveillance program "could allow the government to circumvent legal protections for Americans' privacy, such as laws that guard against the registration of guns or gun owners."

For more than 50 years, the Supreme Court has recognized that involuntary disclosure of the membership of advocacy groups inhibits the exercise of First Amendment rights by those groups. For nearly as long--since the debates leading up to enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968--Congress has recognized that government recordkeeping on gun owners inhibits the exercise of Second Amendment rights. The NSA's mass surveillance program raises both issues, potentially providing the government not only with the means of identifying members and others who communicate with NRA and other advocacy groups, but also with the means of identifying gun owners without their knowledge or consent, contrary to longstanding congressional policy repeatedly reaffirmed and strengthened by Congresses that enacted and reauthorized the legislation at issue in this case.

As the brief notes, "…it would be absurd to think that Congress would adopt and maintain a web of statutes intended to protect against the creation of a national gun registry, while simultaneously authorizing the FBI and the NSA to gather records that could effectively create just such a registry."

The brief concludes that, "if programs like those currently justified by the government's interpretation are allowed to continue and grow unchecked, they could also--contrary to clear congressional intent--undo decades of legal protection for the privacy of Americans in general, and of gun owners in particular."

Another brief was filed Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), the principal House sponsor of the Patriot Act, which contained the provision at issue. Commenting in a statement, Rep. Sensenbrenner also noted the possible effects on gun owners: "The NSA's dragnet collection of data is a violation of Americans' privacy rights and a misinterpretation of the law.  Bulk data collection has frightening implications.  The Administration believes every phone call that every American makes is relevant to terrorism investigations.  Does it also believe every gun sale is relevant?  The same flawed legal argument could be used to build a national gun database, violating our Second Amendment rights."

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