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Court: Phone Companies Have Never Challenged NSA Record Collection

By Melanie Batley   |  

The secret court that determined it was legal for the National Security Agency to collect and store nearly all the phone records of the U.S. public has revealed that no telecommunications company has ever challenged the government's order to turn over records to the agency.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court also explained its judgment that Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure do not apply to business records, such as phone-call logs. It references a 1979 Supreme Court decision which found there is no expectation of privacy with regard to phone records, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"The opinion affirms that the bulk telephony metadata collection is both lawful and constitutional," said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in a statement, according to the Journal. "The release of this opinion is consistent with the president's call for more transparency on these valuable intelligence programs."

The decision by phone companies not to challenge government orders for records stands in contrast to numerous complaints from Internet companies about government demands for personal data and the secrecy surrounding the surveillance efforts.

Judge Claire Eagan, who sits on the court, was behind the decision to release the August 29 opinion upholding the program, arguing its release is in the public interest. The move appears to be a first for the court, suggesting a level of independence from the executive branch, though civil libertarians continue to argue otherwise, the Journal reports.

The NSA's phone surveillance program was developed under a provision of the Patriot Act that authorized the agency to collect phone records as part of its terrorism investigations. The agency determined that nearly all phone records were relevant because it needed to review all calls to determine with whom suspects were communicating.

The content of calls is not captured, but the records, called "metadata," include phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from.

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The secret court that determined it was legal for the National Security Agency to collect and store nearly all the phone records of the U.S. public has revealed that no telecommunications company has ever challenged the government's order to turn over records to the...
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