In yet another example of politics making for strange bedfellows, the National Rifle Association joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union for a future showdown against the National Security Agency.
The NRA filed am amicus curiae brief Wednesday in support of an ACLU lawsuit to halt the NSA’s telephone metadata collection, claiming that it could lead to a national gun registry, according to The Hill.
“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 argued in its brief.
NSA officials have repeatedly told Congress that the agency does not collect massive amounts of data on American citizens — at least “not wittingly,” according to Director James Clapper. It wasn’t until Edward Snowden’s leak to the press that the public learned that the NSA collects and stores data from virtually every phone in the United States.
The agency maintains, however, that Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the collection of business records relevant to terrorism, grants them that authority.
The gun rights group argues that metadata can be used to create a virtual national gun registry by tracking who calls gun shops, shooting ranges and the National Rifle Association itself.
“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 argues.
“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,” the brief states.
The NRA brief also argues that the mass collection of data threatens the First Amendment “freedom of association” rights of the organization and its members. By simply tracking phone calls made to and from the NRA, as well as emails and NRA web site visits, the government can put together an NRA membership list.
Additional supporting briefs were filed Wednesday by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, as well as a divergent field of news organizations, from Fox News to National Public Radio.