Appeals Court Reverses Ruling that Found NSA Program Illegal

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Appeals court deals blow to lawsuit over NSA’s bulk phone data collection.

WASHINGTON — An appeals court in Washington dealt a setback Friday to an activist’s lawsuit against the government over the legality of the National Security Agency’s call records program, ruling that the plaintiff has not proved his standing to sue.

Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a lower court ruling that said the program likely violates the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches. The new law shifts responsibility for storing the data to telephone companies, allowing authorities to access the information only with a warrant from a secret counterterror court that identifies a specific person or group of people suspected of terror ties.

The ruling means the government can continue collecting the data for the next few months, although the program is set to expire at the end of November under legislation that Congress passed earlier this summer to replace it. The panel’s ruling also reversed a ban on the NSA’s collection that had been imposed — and temporarily stayed — by a district court judge in December 2013.

The NSA’s powers have come under scrutiny since documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 showed wide-ranging programmes that scoop up data from phone companies and online. The appeals court sent the case back for a judge to determine whether the government must divulge more details about the program that would enable the case to go forward. The ruling is the latest in a succession of decisions in federal courts in Washington and New York that at various points threatened the constitutionality of the NSA’s surveillance program, but have so far upheld the amassing of records from U.S. domestic phone customers.

Leon argued that American founding father James Madison, one of the authors of the US Constitution, would be “aghast” at the government’s “almost Orwellian” breach of citizens’ rights to privacy. Judge Janice Rogers Brown said it was possible the government would refuse to provide information about the secret program that could help the challengers pursue their case.

Judge David Sentelle dissented in part, saying he would have thrown the case out entirely because the plaintiffs offered no proof they were ever harmed. The lawsuit was brought by Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer, and Charles Strange, the father of a cryptography technician who was killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011. But the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret judicial body that oversees the surveillance program, ruled in June that the New York court was wrong. Klayman “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success” in his bid to prove that his Fourth Amendment right to privacy was violated, and that the NSA program was unconstitutional.

Judge Leon’s fiery opinion drew wide attention not only because it was the first (and only) trial court to rule against the program, but also because of its colorful, headline-grabbing language. Critics of the administration’s surveillance program say collecting massive amounts of data on phone numbers is a violation of Americans’ privacy rights. Klayman lashed out at the judicial panel for its timing. “An ill-informed first-year law student could have written this within one day,” he said. “Why did you wait nearly two years after Leon issued his decision? It stores the information in an NSA database that analysts can query for matches against the phone numbers of known terrorists abroad, searching for domestic connections to plots.

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