Government wins narrow victory in NSA case

29 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. 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 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. Friday’s ruling sends the case back to US District Judge Richard Leon, who had issued an injunction — pending the appeal — to halt the data collection. “I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen,” Leon said in his original decision. 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. 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. 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? Klayman’s case observed that his effort to prove standing was complicated by the possibility that the government could withhold information that would bolster his allegations. “Plaintiffs’ claims may well founder in that event,” said Circuit Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown. “But such is the nature of the government’s privileged control over certain classes of information.” The ruling, said Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, “demonstrates that excessive secrecy limits debate and reform.

It leads to unbalanced surveillance programs and provides victims with little or no recourse.” At the end of the transition period, the NSA will be barred from collecting domestic phone records in bulk under the Patriot Act.

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