New York judge rules NSA phone surveillance is legal

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, as seen from the air, January 29, 2010. New documents show the NSA has targeted the porn viewing habits of Muslim "radicalizers" in order to discredit them.
Saul Loeb

A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance program, which collects millions of Americans’ phone records, was lawful.

Ruling on American Civil Liberties Union et al v. Clapper et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-03994, US District Judge William Pauley said the federal government could dismiss a complaint against the program brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“While robust discussions are underway across the nation, in Congress and at the White House, the question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is,” Pauley wrote in his 54-page ruling.

“The question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide,” he added.

However, the ACLU, disagreed with the ruling, saying on Friday that among other errors the decision "misinterprets the relevant statutes."

“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relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, in a online statement

“As another federal judge and the president’s own review group concluded last week, the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephony data constitutes a serious invasion of Americans’ privacy," she added.

The ACLU said they intend to appeal and make their case in the Second Circuit court. 

Last week, another US District Judge, Richard Leon in Washington, DC, ruled that the NSA phone data collection program was likely unconstitutional because it violated protections against unreasonable searches.

But Pauley argued that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies. “This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” he said.

"Technology allowed Al Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attacks remotely," he said. "The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the government's counter-punch."

There are at least three more pending cases in federal court related to the legality of the NSA metadata collection program, according to Bloomberg News