Judge rules NSA phone-tracking system lawful

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

A federal judge in New York, on Friday, Dec. 27, ruled that the massive National Security Agency (NSA) phone-tracking system is legal and a necessary government security tool in its fight against global terrorism.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley deemed the program vital in eliminating al-Qaida, dismissing a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which claimed the tracking system was unconstitutional.

The suit was brought in the wake of the global scandal involving former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who claims he leaked classified surveillance documents to the media earlier this year because they violated civil rights.

In May, Snowden began leaking NSA call databases, black-ops documents and blueprints detailing how the NSA tracks phone records. Information in those blueprints, the ACLU claimed, represents the government’s abuse of authority detailed in the Patriot Act.

“Because the NSA’s aggregation of metadata constitutes an invasion of privacy and an unreasonable search, it is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment,” the ACLU claimed in its lawsuit. “The call-tracking program also violates the First Amendment, because it vacuums up sensitive information about associational and expressive activity.”

Although he noted the sensitivity of the information, Pauley ruled that tracking it aids in warding off massive terrorist attacks.

“No doubt, the bulky telephony metadata collection program vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States,” Pauley wrote in his decision. “As the September 11th attacks demonstrate, the cost of missing such a thread can be horrific. Technology allowed al-Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attacks remotely.

“The bulky telephone metadata collection program represents the Government’s counter-punch: connecting fragmented and fleeting communications to re-construct and eliminate al-Qaeda’s terror network.”

Pauley’s decision came a week after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington ruled that the program likely violates the Constitution.

“Surely such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,” Leon wrote.

The ACLU suit was brought against Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who admitted the NSA conducted cell phone tracking programs in 2010 and 2011.

Under the program, hundreds of billions of phone calls made on AT&T and Verizon networks were tracked and logged in what the agency named the MAINWAY database. Information about the calls include caller, receiver, date and time and length. The NSA began building the database in early 2001, about six months before 9/11.

Officials from the ACLU were not available for comment about Friday’s ruling as of this report.

Posted Dec. 27, 2013

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