US judge rules NSA data collection is legal

JONATHAN STEMPEL
Last updated 07:44 28/12/2013
Edward Snowden
SPEAKING OUT: National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Relevant offers

Americas

North Korea says it's ready to strike and 'sink' US aircraft carrier Hash browns in US recalled for possibly containing golf ball pieces Elvis Presley's former home damaged by fire Flight attendants' union blames overcrowding, shrinking seats for rise in onboard clashes Bill O'Reilly sacking: How social media helped to force Fox News star out Global pro-science protests peak in US President Donald Trump's back yard Donald Trump's sons take helm of Trump Organization, eye domestic expansion The first 100 days as US president - and why Trump's right about 'ridiculous standard' Danielle McLaughlin: The Trump whisperer, fake news and Acosta accosted Recovery 'just beginning' for US girl abducted by teacher, says lawyer

A federal judge ruled that a National Security Agency program that collects records of millions of Americans' phone calls is lawful, calling it a "counter-punch" to terrorism that does not violate Americans' privacy rights.

The decision by US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the program, whose existence was first disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

It also diverges from a Dec. 16 ruling by US District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., who said the "almost Orwellian" program was likely unconstitutional. He ordered the government to stop collecting call data on the two plaintiffs in that case.

The program also faces a legal challenge from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a data privacy group. Any split among federal judges about the program's constitutionally could ultimately be resolved by the US Supreme Court.

In a 54-page decision, Pauley said the program "vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States."

But he said the program's constitutionality "is ultimately a question of reasonableness," and that there was no evidence that the government had used "bulk telephony metadata" for any reason other than to investigate and disrupt terrorist attacks.

"This blunt tool only works because it collects everything," Pauley wrote. "Technology allowed al Qaeda to operate decentralised and plot international terrorist attacks remotely. The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the government's counter-punch."

Pauley denied the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction. He said the public interest tilts "firmly" in the direction of the government, whose interest in combating terrorism "is an urgent objective of the highest order."

President Barack Obama has defended the surveillance program but has indicated a willingness to consider constraints, including whether to give control of metadata to phone companies or other third parties. Intelligence officials have said this could prove costly and slow investigations.

The ACLU had no immediate comment on the decision. White House Spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment. A US Department of Justice spokesman said the department is pleased with the decision.

RUBBER STAMP, OR VITAL WEAPON?

Leaks by Snowden have detailed the breadth of US electronic surveillance and sparked a debate over how much leeway to give the government in protecting Americans from terrorism.

Ad Feedback

Snowden is now in Russia under temporary asylum.

Larry Klayman, a conservative legal activist who brought the case before Judge Leon, called Pauley's ruling "an outrageous decision that ignores the legitimate fears of the American people and in effect rubber stamps a police state."

Pauley was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton. Leon was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence & Terrorism, in a statement said Pauley's decision "preserves a vital weapon for the United States in our war against international terrorism."

The case is American Civil Liberties Union et al v. Clapper et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-03994.

- Reuters

Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content