Much like some of the nation’s biggest gangsters have been taken down by the fine print – tax rules and the like – over the generations, it now appears that the National Security Agency’s massive spy-on-citizens scheme could unravel because officials reportedly failed to follow the rules.

The challenge is being raised by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which started protesting the NSA surveillance plans a few weeks ago, and promises to renew the protest every week until something happens.

It points out that the NSA’s search and copy functions regarding Americans and their telephone or other records, “also constitutes a legislative rule that ‘substantively affects the public to a degree sufficient to implicate the policy interests animating notice-and-comment rulemaking.”

What that means is that the organization believes the Administrative Procedures Act requires the NSA to open up its surveillance strategy for a public comment period – before it legally could begin those search and copy functions.

“Accordingly, the NSA’s collection of domestic communications, absent the opportunity for public comment, is unlawful,” the letter to NSA chief Keith Alexander and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explains.

The petition, which has collected thousands of signatures already, explains that the organization and co-signers are “concerned about the rule of law and the protection of constitutional freedoms.”

The petition asks the NSA “to conduct a public rulemaking on the agency’s monitoring and collection of communications traffic within the United States.”

“We believe that the NSA’s collection of domestic communications contravenes the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and violates several federal privacy laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 as amended.”

Further, the organization explains, the collection of the domestic communications already has been acknowledged by the president, the director of national intelligence, and the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“We hereby petition the National Security Agency, a component of the Department of Defense, for relief. We ask the NSA to immediately suspend collection of solely domestic communcations pending the completion of a public rulemaking as required by law.”

The organization was joined by “leading privacy experts including James Bamford, Whitfield Diffie and Bruce Schneier” and others in the effort.

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