Supreme Court May Have to Break NSA Surveillance Stalemate

Saturday, 28 Dec 2013 12:58 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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It may be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the National Security Agency's collection of Americans' phone data is constitutional, after two federal judges issued contradictory landmark rulings on the matter.

The American Civil Liberties Union already plans to appeal Friday's decision  by U.S. District Judge William Pauley III in New York that said the agency's bulk telephone metadata is not only legal but necessary, reports

Pauley said the metadata, which includes records of the numbers that were called and how long calls last while not recording the content of the calls is a vital tool for capturing terrorists.

"The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the government's counter-punch: connecting fragmented and fleeting communications to reconstruct and eliminate al-Qaeda's terror network," Pauley said.

But his ruling came less than two weeks after another federal judge, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., said the metadata collection was a likely violation of citizens' rights to privacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed the program is unconstitutional and sued the government, said it would appeal the ruling.

"We are extremely disappointed with this decision, which misinterprets the relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections," said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director.

The appeals would be filed in courts in New York and Washington on either case, and if the split remains, will likely head to the Supreme Court after that, The New York Times reports.

Even Pauley, while making his ruling, admitted that the NSA's data collection, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, "imperils the civil liberties of every citizen," but still might have captured the terrorists before the 9-11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

But he said it is up to the president and Congress to end the NSA's activities, not the courts.
Pauley also said that it is not up to him to say if the law will be appealed at the Supreme Court level.

"The Supreme Court has instructed lower courts not to predict whether it would overrule a precedent even if its reasoning has been supplanted by later cases," noted Pauley.

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