Judge: NSA’s mass collection of phone data is legal

A federal judge has ruled that the NSA’s mass collection of phone records is constitutional, granting a U.S. government motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. The ruling comes a couple of weeks after another federal judge ruled in a separate case that the practice likely violates the Fourth Amendment.

In today’s ruling, Judge William H. Pauley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York acknowledged the controversy over NSA spying but said he was only weighing in over its lawfulness. The question about whether the phone-record collection should occur “is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it will appeal. “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relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, in a statement.

In his 54-page ruling (PDF), Pauley cites Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, saying it allowed for mass collection of telephony metadata. A coalition of companies and advocacy groups such as the ACLU has urged Congress to amend Section 215, we wrote in June.

Pauley acknowledges the sheer scope of the program but echoes the government’s defense of it as necessary to the fight against terrorism. From the ruling:

This blunt tool only works because it collects everything.

The right to be free from searches and seizures is fundamental, but not absolute. … Every day, people voluntarily surrender personal and seemingly-private information to transnational companies, which exploit that data for profit. Few think twice about it, even though it is far more intrusive than bulk telephony metadata collection.

No doubt, the bulk telephony metadata vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States. That is by design, as it allows the NSA to detect relationships so attenuated  and ephemeral they would otherwise escape notice. As the September 11th attacks demonstrate, the cost of missing such a thread can be horrific.


Photo of the National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md., from Associated Press archives


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  • NickyGee

    Here is an article that shows how even the collection of cell phone location data can be used to track the details of our lives without actually gaining access to the content:


    Metadata reveals far more about us than we might think.

  • smartmind

    9/11 proved nothing of the sort. It is just a lazy way of excusing every draconian US action by citing 9/11 as the pretext. The killing of 100,000 Iraqi’s by Bush and Blair was far more horrific than 9/11 but what would this judge care about that.

  • Chris Paterson

    We are a nation of hypocrites. If you care so much about the NSA spying on you, then why are you using google and facebook? These companies are much worse than the NSA. Stop being a hypocrite! Use privacy-based services such as DuckDuckGo, Ravetree, and HushMail. Then, tell your friends and family to use these sites.

    • Josh Jones

      The reason why people are fine with Facebook, Google, etc. seeing some information because they know that the sites are designed for personal communication and the information they have is given out OPTIONALLY. Anybody with a tad of computer knowledge knows that data has to be stored somewhere, and since those companies own the Database, the information in them is in some ways, property of the company. Just imost of the companies will have a privacy policy which will clearly state that they reserve the right to review and retain any information used over their system. But, most also say that they will not be given out to any third party, and if the NSA is going to view that information, it is a third party and the company does not intend for it to be viewed by the NSA, but as of now they can’t really do anything about it besides complaining logically and trying to get it resolved legally.

  • rockynites

    Another one of MANY federal judges that know neither the constitution nor law. A person can make a conscious decision to give an entity his/her personal information. But it should not, CANNOT be taken surreptitiously. That is ILLEGAL.

  • Maxx

    ok, Smartmind…. you are not being that smartmind anymore… if you have issues with the Iraqi war then bring them up on your own discussion please. right now we are talking about the USA and not the Iraqi war. ok..

  • Maxx

    I have nothing to hide, therefore, don’t care about any tracking whatsoever.

    • Josh Jones

      I have nothing to hide either, however, when I hear about the NSA possibly spying on my emails, calls, etc. I get enraged because it’s called personal information for a reason.

  • bbbbb

    So this means that the NSA can know the name, location and cell phone number of every person who calls a reporter. I don’t think we need to worry about ever reading any upsetting stories about the government ever again.