Judge: NSA’s Mass Collection Of Telephone Data Is Legal

A U.S. District Court judge in New York has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, and others over the National Security Agency’s mass collecting of information about U.S. consumers’ telephone use, saying that the program is legal while leaving it up to lawmakers to decide whether it’s a program that should exist at all.

“While robust discussions are underway across the nation, in Congress, and at the White House, the question for this Court is whether the Government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful,” writes Judge William H. Pauley III in his 54-page ruling [PDF]. “This Court finds it is. But the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide.”

The judge holds that the Sept. 11 attacks may have been prevented had the NSA had access to the phone-related metadata it now collects from millions of phone users, but also cautions that such collection could get out of hand.

“The blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” reads the ruling. “Such a program, if unchecked, imperils the civil liberties of every citizen. Each time someone in the United States makes or receives a telephone call, the telecommunications provider makes a record of when, and to what telephone number the call was placed, and how long it lasted. The NSA collects that telephony metadata. If plumbed, such data can reveal a rich profile of every individual as well as a comprehensive record of people’s associations with one another.”

The New York court ruling comes on the heels of a very different decision made last week by a District Court judge in Washington, D.C., where the court held that the NSA phone surveillance program “almost certainly” violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

NSA’s Phone Data Collection Program Lawful, Federal Judge Rules [WSJ Law Blog]

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  1. PsiCopB5 says:

    I have yet to hear anything even resembling a cogent explanation for how knowing my call history could possibly point the NSA to any terrorism. I don’t know any terrorists; I don’t call any terrorists; and no terrorists ever call me. Therefore, absolutely nothing in my call history could possibly reveal the slightest thing about any terrorism. NSA doesn’t need my call history. Since they can’t point to any rational reason why they should have it, then they shouldn’t get it.

    • CharlesWinthrop says:

      On top of that, there’s such a thing as data saturation. As much data as they’re collecting, even if the terrorists were speaking clearly on a phone (extremely highly unlikely), filtering those exact calls ouit of all the other data IN TIME TO USE IT EFFECTIVELY is virtually impossible. And yes, I know they have “special programs” like Raptor and Predator that look for keywords and patterns, but it still holds. The sheer number of false positives far outweigh the possibilities of getting a true positive in time to use it.

      • PhillyDom says:

        You and the original poster are both assuming that the NSA program is intended for anti-terrorism. In the same way that provisions of the so-called Patriot Act have been used by the government in non-terrorism cases, the information collected by the NSA will be (or already is being) used for purposes other than fighting terrorism – espionage, prosecuting non-terrorist criminals, etc.

        The NSA programs, like the Patriot Act itself, are capitalizing on 9/11 and the public’s fears of further terrorist acts to install the kind of national surveillance infrastructure Orwell couldn’t have dreamed of and would never have been accepted by the public without some trumped-up external threat.

  2. SuperSpeedBump says:

    I wonder if I can get a thousand other people to join me at the front steps of the NSA to “Turn ourselves in” for “whatever it was that we did wrong to justify a wire-tap”?