December 27, 2013
Federal Judge Rules NSA Phone Data Collection Is Legal
On Friday, a federal judge ruled the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass collection of telephone data is legal. US District Judge William Pauley dismissed a lawsuit brought by civil liberties campaigners, stating the dragnet program “represents the government’s counter-punch” to al-Qaida, which was responsible for the September 2001 terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom noted this decision does conflict with a ruling in a previous case, which will increase the likelihood that the United States Supreme Court will eventually hear the case.
Two weeks ago, US District Judge Richard J. Leon of the District of Columbia, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, struck down the NSA’s exposed policy of collecting the dialing records of all phone calls in the country.
As part of his ruling, Leon ordered the government to stop collection data on two plaintiffs who had brought the case against the government, and further added that the program conducted by the NSA likely violated the Fourth Amendment. While Leon ordered the government to stop collecting data, he stayed the ruling, which gives the government time to appeal the decision.
The ruling was the first major legal defeat for the NSA since former agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden began leaking secret documents to the media regarding the NSA’s data collection this past summer.
However, this week Pauley said the Fourth Amendment protections do not apply to records held by third parties, including phone companies.
“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Judge Pauley said in the ruling as reported by the New York Times.
“While robust discussions are underway across the nation, in Congress and at the White House, the question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is,” he added.
With this ruling, Pauley also dismissed a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which did not respond to the ruling.
However, a task force has been charged with reviewing NSA policies and has recommended a series of changes to the program, including those that involve the bulk collection of Americans’ phone and email records. However, the suggested changes fell short of calling for an end of the programs.
President Barack Obama, before he left for his holiday vacation in Hawaii, also said he would make a statement about the future of the NSA after he returns to Washington.
An NSA defender, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said Pauley’s ruling “preserves a vital weapon for the United States in our war against international terrorism.
“I would hope that Judge Pauley’s opinion will lessen at least some of the adulation for Edward Snowden as well as the rabid anti-NSA hysteria which as become so pervasive,” King said.
Earlier this week, Snowden spoke to The Washington Post in his first in-person interview since he arrived in Russia in June. He said on Tuesday that his “mission’s already accomplished.”