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]