Federal surveillance programs won a small but noteworthy victory Friday, as a key federal appeals court lifted an injunction that blocked the National Security Agency from collecting data on two individuals.
In a brief opinion attributed to the court, rather than an individual judge, a conservative three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit removed the preliminary injunction imposed by a trial judge.
“The burden on plaintiffs seeking a preliminary injunction is high,” Judge Janice Roger Brown noted in an accompanying opinion.
Plaintiffs have not shown themselves entitled to the preliminary injunction granted by the district court.
Judge David Sentelle.
Attorney Larry Klayman, who’s filed myriad lawsuits against presidents going back to Bill Clinton’s era, challenged the NSA program on behalf of himself and Charles Strange, whose son Michael died in Afghanistan while serving as a cryptologic technician with a Navy SEAL team.
The telephone metadata targeted in the case include the call length, phone numbers used to make or receive calls and when the calls took place. They don’t include the content of the calls. Intelligence analysts use metadata to find connections.
“It uses the data in conjunction with a range of analytical tools to ascertain contact information that may be of use in identifying individuals who may be associated with certain foreign terrorist organizations because they have been in communication with certain suspected-terrorist telephone numbers or other selectors,” the appeals court explained.
Critics have estimated that the government’s call-record database contains billions of records. Klayman argued that the program violates the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unlawful searches.
“The record, as it stands in the very early stages of this litigation, leaves some doubt about whether plaintiffs’ own metadata was ever collected,” Brown noted.
Brown, a former California state judge, is a strict conservative appointed by President George W. Bush. Judge David Sentelle, a North Carolina native, is a Reagan administration appointee known as a law-and-order conservative. Judge Stephen Williams is also a Reagan appointee.
Sentelle argued the case should be dismissed outright.