NY District Court: NSA Spying Legal

On Friday a Federal judge in the Southern District of New York court ruled against the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and in favor of the federal government, saying that the National Security Agency's (NSA) spying activities on American citizens is perfectly legal.

District Judge William Pauley of the Southern District of New York ruled that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records is lawful. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Judge Pauley dismissed the case, saying that Fourth Amendment protections do not extend to records held by third parties, like telecom companies.

Judge Pauley’s opinion is at odds with the opinion of a D.C. district court, which ruled earlier in the month that the widespread NSA surveillance was unconstitutional due to its broad reach. No doubt these two conflicting rulings will ultimately lead to a review by the U.S. Supreme Court at some point down the road.

Judge Pauley wrote in his decision that the ACLU had no standing to argue its case against the government in the District court, and that the government is within its rights to collect information about people that is held by third parties. From his decision:

"Regarding the statutory arguments, there is another level of absurdity in this case. The ACLU would never have learned about the section 215 order authorizing collection of telephony metadata related to its telephone numbers but for the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden. Congress did not intend that targets of section 215 orders would ever learn of them. And the statutory scheme also makes clear that Congress intended to preclude suits by targets even if they discovered section 215 orders implicating them. It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets—including the means and methods of intelligence gathering—could frustrate Congress's intent. To hold otherwise would spawn mischief: recipients of orders would be subject to section 215's secrecy protocol confining challenges to the FISC, while targets could sue in any federal district court. A target's awareness of section 215 orders does not alter the Congressional calculus. The ACLU's statutory claim must therefore be dismissed."

Judge Pauley also said that "the collection of breathtaking amounts of information unprotected by the Fourth Amendment does not transform that sweep into a Fourth Amendment search."

The ACLU said that it was disappointed by the ruling and would appeal the decision.

"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," wrote Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, on Friday. "We intend to appeal and look forward to making our case in the Second Circuit."

You can read more about the decision here (PDF).

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