The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was disappointed with the decision of the federal judge that the bulk telephony metadata collection program of the National Security Agency (NSA) is legal and a significant part of the efforts of the United States government to fight terrorism.
According to Atty. Brett Max Kaufman, the ACLU is planning to appeal the ruling and he is hoping that the court of appeals will agree to the opinion of a federal judge in Washington last month that the program violated the Constitution.
Details of Judge Pauley’s NSA ruling
United States District Judge William Pauley emphasized in his 54-page opinion that the surveillance program of the intelligence agency “represents the government’s counter-punch” to eradicate the terrorist networks of Al-Qaeda by connecting brief and fragmented communications.
The judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the government after Edward Snowden leaked documents detailing the secret programs of the intelligence agency. Many believed that the privacy rights of people were violated and criticized the secret programs of the NSA.
During court hearings last month, the legal counsel of the ACLU argued that the interpretation of the government regarding its authority under the Patriot Act was so broad and it can justify its bulk collection of health, financial data, and even the library records of innocent Americans. On the other hand, legal counsel representing the government refuted the ACLU’s argument and pointed out that investigators do not consider the most personal information of individuals useful to counter-terrorism.
Pauley points to usage, extensive oversight
In his ruling, Judge Pauley pointed out that there is no proof that the government used any of the bulk telephony metadata collected by the NSA for any purpose other than investigating and preventing terrorist attacks.
Judge Pauley explained that the bulk telephony metadata collection program under FISA is subject to extensive oversight by the three branches of the government. Congress, the Department of Justice, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and the Intelligence Community are monitoring the program. He explained that the Executive is required to seek first the approval of the FISC to collect bulk telephony data.
“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything. Such a program if unchecked, imperils the civil liberties of the every citizen,” according to Judge Pauley.
According to the judge, “The government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world. It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program — a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.”
Judge Pauley referred to the mistake committed by the NSA prior to the September 11 attack when the intelligence agency’s analysts concluded that the seven calls they intercepted from hijacker Khalid al-Midhar were overseas, not in the United States.
He also emphasized that it is a fundamental right to be free from search and seizures, but it is not an absolute right.