The National Rifle Association joined the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit on Wednesday to end the government’s massive phone record collection program.
In a brief filed in federal court, the NRA argues that the National Security Agency’s database of phone records amounts to a “national gun registry.”
“It would be absurd to think that the 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 group writes.
After leaks by Edward Snowden, the NSA acknowledged that it collects records on virtually all U.S. phone calls. The data include phone numbers, call times and call durations, but not the contents of the conversations. The NSA says it only “queries” the database a limited number of times for specific national security reasons.
The NSA argues that Congress authorized the phone data surveillance with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows for the collection of business records “relevant” to terrorism.
In its filing, the gun-rights group claims that the NSA’s database would allow the government to identify and track gun owners based on whether they’ve called gun stores, shooting ranges or the NRA.
“Under the government’s reading of Section 215, the government could simply demand the periodic submission of all firearms dealers’ transaction records, then centralize them in a database indexed by the buyers’ names for later searching,” the NRA writes.
The group claims that Congress could never have meant to authorize such a vast surveillance operation because it has repeatedly rejected proposals to create a national gun registry.
The NRA’s brief also claims that the phone record program violates its members’ First Amendment rights to associate and communicate freely. The group argues that people could fear retribution for associating with the gun-rights group if they knew the government was monitoring their phone records.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with a host of news organizations including Bloomberg, Fox, National Public Radio and The New Yorker, also filed a brief on Wednesday in support of the ACLU lawsuit. The groups claim that the phone data collection inhibits the ability of journalists to contact sources and gather news.