US federal judge rules NSA phone surveillance is lawful
By Jennie Matthew ,AFP
December 29, 2013, 12:07 am TWN
NEW YORK -- A U.S. judge ruled Friday that the National Security Agency's mass surveillance of telephone calls is lawful, igniting a legal conflict that the Supreme Court may ultimately have to resolve.
Federal judge William Pauley in New York threw out a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union and said the program was vital in preventing an al-Qaida terror attack on American soil.
Ten days earlier, however, another federal judge in Washington declared that this “almost Orwellian” surveillance is probably unconstitutional, laying the groundwork for a protracted legal fight.
“The question for this court is whether the government's bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is,” said the 54-page ruling published in New York on Friday.
Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, sent shockwaves around the world this year by revealing the extent of Washington's electronic eavesdropping on millions of private calls.
The Justice Department welcomed Friday's ruling but the American Civil Liberties Union said it would appeal.
Pauley said the program, since it is protected by judicial, executive and congressional oversight, does not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
“There is no evidence that the government has used any of the bulk telephony metadata it collected for any purpose other than investigating and disrupting terrorist attacks,” he wrote.
The judge sided with U.S. spy chiefs who say that by connecting the dots between archived calls and terrorist suspects, U.S. officials can keep the country safe.
The NSA hoovers up information about virtually every telephone call to, from and within the United States, and says it is the only way to discern patterns left behind by foreign terror groups.