Judge rules NSA phone surveillance program is legal

McClatchy Washington BureauDecember 27, 2013 

NSA Surveillance Thwarted Attacks

The National Security Agency (NSA) building at Fort Meade, Md.

CHARLES DHARAPAK — AP

A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that the massive collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency is lawful.

But last week another judge found that the NSA’s program was likely unconstitutional, making it more likely that the Supreme Court will make its own ruling.

In a statement, the ACLU, which brought the lawsuit after former NSA leaker Edward Snowden brought the program to light, said it would appeal the case.

“We are extremely disappointed with this decision, which misinterprets the relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU deputy legal director.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the government is “pleased the court found the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata collection program to be lawful.

President Barack Obama suggested last week that he could make significant changes to the government’s vast surveillance programs, including the contentious mass collection of phone records. He said he will make a “definitive statement” about the programs next month after considering his options during a two-week family vacation in Hawaii.

Obama could administer some of the recommendations through executive actions, but others would require approval from a divided Congress, where support for NSA changes does not fall strictly along party lines.

Rep. Peter King, chairman of Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence & Terrorism, called today’s decision "a victory for the patriotic men and women of the NSA" and "preserves a vital weapon for the United States in our war against international terrorism."

In a 53-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said Friday the legality of the phone records program is “ultimately a question of reasonableness” under the Fourth Amendment and is a valid government response to try to eliminate the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Pauley said that if the U.S. government had the phone data collection program before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it could have helped provide important clues to help authorities.

“The government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world,” Pauley wrote. “It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program — a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.”

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