Federal judge rules NSA bulk data collection is legal
A US federal judge has ruled that widespread phone tapping by the National Security Association (NSA) is legal, less than a fortnight after a previous ruling suggested that such actions may well be anti-constitutional.
The original ruling, made by Judge Richard Leon on the 16th of December, suggested that widespread phone data collection, which is revealed to have been being made by the NSA, could be against the constitution. Judge Leon described the NSA’s methods of surveillance as “indiscriminate” and “an arbitrary invasion”.
Since whistleblower Edward Snowden made serious security leaks in June, it has become apparent that the NSA’s security programme allows them to order Verizon, one of the USA’s largest phone operators, to hand over information known as metadata, which may include phone numbers, times and dates of millions of calls providing that just one of the parties is in America at the time of the call.
Judge William Pauley, who made the most recent ruling, cited the fact that the NSA intercepted several calls by one of the 9/11 terrorist attackers prior to the attacks themselves, but were unable to act on the information because the details of the calls that they had were too sketchy.
Widespread phone data collection now “only works because it collects everything,” said Pauley, who added: “The collection is broad, but the scope of counterterrorism investigations is unprecedented.”
Pauley did concede, however, that if left unrestrained the programme may well become a programme which “imperils the civil liberties of every citizen” – a stance which the US government has taken on board.
He was also careful to add that his decision to rule the NSA’s actions legal was not akin to him condoning the continuation of data collection and storage as it was. “The question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide,” he said.
Last week president Barack Obama suggested that there may be “another way of skinning the cat”, which has been taken to mean that the government may look at creating clearer methods of oversight for the NSA’s data collection and storage.
“We are pleased the court found the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata collection program to be lawful,” said a spokesman from the US Department of Justice.
Non-profit organisation the American Civil Liberties Union, who brought the initial challenge against bulk data collection, have said that they are “disappointed” with the decision and will seek to appeal.
As much as this latest ruling appears to back up the government’s assertions that the programme is not illegal, the two contradictory decisions mean that the ultimate ruling is likely to lie with the Supreme Court.