A landmark ruling by a federal judge Friday says that the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance and assemblage of the phone numbers and internet records of millions of Americans is not only legal but a vastly important part of the NSA’s ability to combat terrorism in the United States.
Judge William H. Pauley III of the Southern District of New York has been presiding over the debate and case brought forward by the American Civil Liberties Union, who tried to prevent the collection of information by the NSA. However, Judge Pauley granted the motion to dismiss brought forth by the federal government, saying that the ACLU’s arguments did not hold. The ACLU plaintiffs pointed to the Fourth Amendment to protect the American people from such data searches and seizures, but the ruling made clear that because the records taken by the NSA were held by a third party, such as a phone company or internet provider, protection does not apply.
The Justice Department reported that they were pleased with the NSA ruling, but declined to say anything more.
The ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said that an appeal will be incoming from the group. He went on to talk about their disappointment with the decision, saying that Judge Pauley misinterpreted the statutes brought forth and did not comprehend the issue of privacy which the NSA so blatantly dismisses. Despite the federal judge’s ruling, they do not believe that the NSA phone surveillance should be legal, and say that President Obama’s review group and another federal judge concluded the same in the past few weeks.
With its contradicting rulings, this case is likely to see action at the Supreme Court. This latest ruling follows another by Judge Richard J. Leon nearly two weeks ago, who ruled in the District of Columbia that the NSA’s collection program quite likely violated the spirit of the Fourth Amendment. Highly skeptical of the benefits of a database of such intense size, Judge Leon also put a stay on the NSA’s ability to collect data from the two plaintiffs in that trial, but in doing so gave the federal government the needed time to make an appeal.
Judge Pauley’s decision may have been partially based on arguments made by top government officials such as former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, who was among those who made a strong play to the New York judge’s heartstrings. Mueller endorsed the viewpoint that if a program like this had been in play before September 11, 2001, it may have prevented the attack and caught the hijackers before they boarded the planes that fateful morning. After all, the NSA had picked up on several calls about the plans made to a safe house in Yemen, but because there was no US surveillance, they missed out on a number of calls made from a San Diego-based hijacker.
With the NSA continuing to pick up millions of outgoing telephone calls as well as internet browsing every day from third party sources, private data may not stay private for long. If additional federal judges rule the NSA phone surveillance legal and the argument goes before the Supreme Court, it’s likely the American people will have quite a battle on their hands if they want to keep their phone data out of the hands of the government.
By Marisa Corley