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US Judge Deems NSA Phone Surveillance Lawful

ACLU to appeal decision that 'understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance'

- Common Dreams staff

A case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the National Security Agency was dismissed Friday when a U.S. judge ruled that the spy agency's dragnet collection of telephone data is constitutional.A National Security Agency (NSA) data gathering facility is seen in Bluffdale, about 25 miles (40 kms) south of Salt Lake City, Utah, December 17, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart

While the agency "vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States," said U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan on Friday, it still remains within the framework of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and is rather "ultimately a question of reasonableness."

The case, ACLU v. Clapper, was brought by the ACLU on June 11, 2013, less than a week after The Guardian reported for the first time on documents obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, which have continued to shock the world on the vast extent of NSA surveillance.

Pauley went on to justify the surveillance, saying that the NSA has necessarily “adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world.”

“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relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “As another federal judge and the president’s own review group concluded last week, the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephony data constitutes a serious invasion of Americans’ privacy. We intend to appeal and look forward to making our case in the Second Circuit.”

The ruling conflicts with lower court rulings and increases the chances of the issue going to the Supreme Court, The New York Times reports.

Friday's ruling follows a decision in a separate lawsuit earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, who said the U.S. government "almost certainly" violated the constitution with the phone surveillance program and granted a preliminary injunction against the collecting of phone records.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval," Leon had stated.

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