The National Security Agency’s massive storehouse of data on every phone call you make, along with the same for every other American, is perfectly legal a federal judge ruled today.
In fact, the overwhelming cache of information on the telephone activity of millions and million of Americans, is “vital tool” for the government to use in its efforts to keep Americans safe from a repeat of 9/11 or other such terrorist attacks, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said in his decision, throwing out a challenge to the NSA’s eavesdropping efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The collection en masse of American phone call data was revealed earlier this year in a voluminous leak of classified information by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden, who is now a fugitive.
“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relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” said the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, quoted in a CNN report on the decision.
The legal win for the National Security Agency comes after a setback last week when a different federal judge came to exactly the opposite conclusion, that the agency’s “metadata” collection program — that is, its gathering of the times that phone calls were made and numbers called, without actually monitoring their content — violated Americans’ privacy rights and probably, therefore, the Constitution as well.
But that judge limited his ruling so that it applied only to the plaintiffs in the case, not as a broad constitutional principle — clearing the way for today’s decision.
Pauley today conceded that the mass collection effort, “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States.” But such apparently extreme measures are justified by the need to prevent another major Al Qaeda attack on the United States, the judge said, reported on the tech news site CNet,
The September 11, 2001 plot, the judge wrote, “succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaeda.” Scooping up vast amounts of data on phone calls by ordinary Americans, he said, is okay because “it allows the NSA to detect relationships so attenuated and ephemeral they would otherwise escape notice. As the September 11th attacks demonstrate, the cost of missing such a thread can be horrific.”
A White House panel convened to advise President Barack Obama what to do about the National Security Agency program on December 18 recommended that the metadata collections come to an end, CNet noted.