(AP) ACLU will appeal NY NSA phone surveillance ruling
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
A civil rights lawyer says the American Civil Liberties Union is very disappointed that a New York judge has found that a government program that collects millions of Americans’ telephone records is legal.
Attorney Brett Max Kaufman said the ACLU will appeal Friday’s ruling by federal Judge William Pauley in Manhattan. The judge concluded that the program was legal and a valuable part of the nation’s efforts to combat the threat of terrorism. The judge said the phone collection program only works because it collects everything.
Kaufman said he hopes a federal appeals court in New York agrees with the reasoning of a Washington D.C. federal judge who concluded earlier this month that the program likely violates the Constitution.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
A federal judge on Friday found that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records is legal and a valuable part of the nation’s arsenal to counter the threat of terrorism and “only works because it collects everything.”
U.S. District Judge William Pauley said in a written opinion that the program “represents the government’s counter-punch” to eliminate al-Qaida’s terror network by connecting fragmented and fleeting communications.
He said the mass collection of phone data “significantly increases the NSA’s capability to detect the faintest patterns left behind by individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations. Armed with all the metadata, NSA can draw connections it might otherwise never be able to find.”
He added that such a program, if unchecked, “imperils the civil liberties of every citizen” and he noted the lively debate about the subject across the nation, in Congress and at the White House.
In ruling, the judge noted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and how the phone data-collection system could have helped investigators connect the dots before the attacks occurred.
Pauley’s decision contrasts with a ruling earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, who granted a preliminary injunction against the collecting of phone records of two men who had challenged the program. The Washington jurist said the program likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on unreasonable search. The judge has since stayed the effect of his ruling, pending a government appeal.
Pauley dismissed a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU did not immediately respond to a message for comment.
In arguments before Pauley last month, an ACLU lawyer had argued that the government’s interpretation of its authority under the Patriot Act was so broad that it could justify the mass collection of financial, health and even library records of innocent Americans without their knowledge, including whether they had used a telephone sex hotline, contemplated suicide, been addicted to gambling or drugs or supported political causes. A government lawyer had countered that counterterrorism investigators wouldn’t find most personal information useful.
Pauley said there were safeguards in place, including the fact the NSA cannot query the phone database it collects without legal justification and is limited in how much it can learn. He also noted “the government repudiates any notion that it conducts the type of data mining the ACLU warns about in its parade of horribles.”
The ACLU sued earlier this year after former NSA analyst Edward Snowden leaked details of the secret programs that critics say violate privacy rights. The NSA-run programs pick up millions of telephone and Internet records that are routed through American networks each day.
Pauley said the fact that the ACLU would never have learned about an order authorizing collection of telephony metadata related to its telephone numbers but for Snowden’s disclosures added “another level of absurdity in this case.”
Pauley also rejected the ACLU’s argument that the phone data collection program is too broad and contains too much irrelevant information.
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.