A US federal judge ruled Friday that a National Security Agency (NSA) programme that collects records of millions of Americans' phone calls is lawful, saying it's a "counter-punch" to terrorism that does not violate privacy rights.
The decision by US District Judge William Pauley diverged from a ruling by another judge this month that questioned the programme's constitutionality, raising the prospect that the Supreme Court will need to resolve the issue.
In a 54-page decision, Pauley dismissed an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit contending that the NSA collection of "bulk telephony metadata" violated the bar against warrantless searches under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.
The judge also referred often to the September 11, 2001 attacks, in which nearly 3,000 people died, and said broad counter-terrorism programs such as the NSA's could help avoid a "horrific" repeat of those events.
"This blunt tool only works because it collects everything," Pauley wrote. "Technology allowed al Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attacks remotely. The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the government's counter-punch."
The programme's existence was first disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently in Russia under temporary asylum. His leaks have sparked a debate over how much leeway to give the government in what they say is protecting Americans from terrorism.
Pauley ruled 11 days after US District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, DC said the "almost Orwellian" NSA program amounted to an "indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion" that was likely unconstitutional.
Leon also ordered the government to stop collecting call data on the two plaintiffs in that case, but suspended that portion of his decision so the government could appeal.
The ACLU has argued before Pauley that the NSA programme was an unwarranted "dramatic expansion" of the government's investigative powers over Americans' day-to-day lives.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, on Friday said the group was "extremely disappointed" with Pauley's decision, saying it does away with core constitutional protections. He said the ACLU will appeal to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment. US Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr said the department is pleased with the decision.
President Barack Obama has defended the surveillance programme but has indicated a willingness to consider constraints, including whether to give control of metadata to phone companies or other third parties. Intelligence officials have said this could prove costly and slow investigations.
On December 18, a White House-appointed panel proposed curbs on some NSA surveillance operations.
It said that because intelligence agencies could not point to specific cases where telephony metadata collection led to a major counter-terrorism success, the intrusiveness of such intelligence gathering might outweigh the public benefit.
Obama is expected next month to set forth his own proposals for possible surveillance reforms.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-28