The National Rifle Association has often been at odds with the national press, and there have been times when the NRA has been critical of the American Civil Liberties Union’s attitude about the Second Amendment, but yesterday they all wound up on the same side in a lawsuit targeting the federal government’s phone data collection.
The NRA on Wednesday filed an amicus brief in the ACLU’s lawsuit seeking to end the National Security Agency’s monitoring of phone calls, arguing that this database could amount to a national gun registry. According to The Hill, the NSA contends that it has the authority to conduct surveillance on telephone calls under the Patriot Act.
This program came under scrutiny thanks to renegade leaker Edward Snowden, now receiving asylum in Russia. The press was already sensitive to government telephone snooping thanks to revelations in the spring that the Obama-Holder Justice Department had secretly obtained phone call records of Associated Press editors and reporters, and had also probed Fox News reporter James Rosen.
Also filing amicus briefs in the case, according to The Hill, are Bloomberg News, Fox, The New Yorker, National Public Radio and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Some observers suggest the NRA is in very strange company until one looks at their brief, in which the organization expresses concerns that NSA snooping could allow the government to amass phone call records between members and potential members, and the association. That kind of intrusiveness could discourage people from joining or retaining their NRA membership, or contributing to the NRA, the association asserts.
In its brief, the NRA contends that NSA snooping could involve “other forms of mass surveillance not directly at issue in this case, but not foreclosed by the government’s interpretation—such as the gathering of e-mail headers, Internet browsing information, and social media posts.”
The brief offers this scenario:
“Each of these programs standing on its own could provide the government with an extraordinary amount of information about those who communicate with the NRA for any reason. Under the programs revealed so far, the government may already possess information about everyone who has called the NRA by phone, e-mailed the NRA, or visited the NRA’s website. Conversely, the same programs would also gather information on potential members or donors contacted by phone or e-mail for NRA membership recruitment or fundraising programs, or for legislative or political reasons such as the transmission of legislative alerts or get-out-the-vote messages. The programs could also reveal at least the outlines of research and advocacy activities undertaken by NRA staff members, such as the websites visited in the course of legislative analysis or the identities of legislative staff members contacted by e-mail. At the outer extreme, a location tracking program could reveal the identity of every mobile phone user who visits the NRA’s headquarters—whether for a political or legislative event, or simply to use the NRA’s shooting range or visit its National Firearms Museum. Similarly, location-tracking surveillance could reveal the travels of NRA staff members to engage in legislative meetings, political events, or other activities protected by the First Amendment. Any of these forms of tracking could easily reduce individuals’ desire to interact with the NRA.”
Before the Associated Press snooping scandal broke, some in the press might have considered the NRA’s contentions to be the stuff of tinfoil hat paranoia, but the ACLUs lawsuit has given this issue legitimacy. That press organizations now find themselves on the same side as the NRA is no small irony.
For years, NRA leaders have maintained that too much government intrusiveness on the rights of law-abiding gun owners could have very negative implications for personal liberty and privacy. Many in the press balked at that argument until they found themselves targeted by the same invasive tactics.
Not that the NRA, the press and ACLU are now one big, happy family, but it is possible that in the future, when gun owners voice concerns about Second Amendment infringements, reporters and editors will be a bit more circumspect before dismissing them as loons.
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