Based on ruling on Monday by a judge on the secretive, constitutionally questionable Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the NSA is back in business collecting the phone records of millions Americans all across the country.
Unelected Judge Mosman of the FSIC in effect overruled the Second U.S. Court of Appeals, meaning that the NSA now has official legal cover to restart its bulk data collection of the phone records of Americans.
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Of note, the resumption in bulk phone record collection is only authorized for 180 days (Nov. 29), as specified by the USA Freedom Act. The new law, which President Obama approved with his signature a month ago after an acrimonious debate in Congress, will eventually bring the government’s bulk collection of Americans’s phone data to an end. The law provided for a transition period so the NSA could establish an alternative system where they would have access to the data stored by the phone companies instead of collecting it themselves.
Details on the NSA ruling from FSIC judge
“In passing the USA Freedom Act, Congress clearly intended to end bulk data collection … But what it took away with one hand, it gave back – for a limited time – with another,” Mosman wrote in his ruling.
In a story initially reported by the New York Times, Mosman overruled the earlier ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan that the Patriot Act had never authorized the collection Americans’ phone records in the first place.
“Second Circuit rulings are not binding on the F.I.S.C. and this court respectfully disagrees with that court’s analysis, especially in view of the intervening enactment of the U.S.A. Freedom Act,” he commented.
You read that right. The FSIC can simply ignore the U.S. justice system as its rulings are not binding on this new “higher” court. It’s been a long time since my eighth grade civics class, but I don’t remember the constitution saying anything about two “supreme courts” in this country.
More on NSA bulk collection of Americans’ phone records
The NSA’s bulk phone data collection program collects and analyzes basic information about Americans’ phone calls, including the number dialed and the time and length of the call, but does not actually record the phone calls.
The new USA Freedom Act mandates that firms such as Verizon Communications and AT&T collect and store telephone records in the same manner that they currently do for regular billing purposes.
Instead of regularly supplying U.S. intelligence agencies with this data as they have in the past, the firms are now mandated to give up the phone data after a government request that is approved by the FISC.
Statement from the U.S. Justice Department
Not surprisingly, the U.S. Justice Department was enthusiastic about the FSIC decision.
“We agree with the Court’s conclusion that the program is lawful, and that in passing the USA Freedom Act, Congress provided for a 180 day transition period for the government to continue the existing collection program until the new mechanism of obtaining call detail records is implemented,” said Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle.