On Friday, New York federal judge William H. Pauley III ruled that the surveillance and collection activities overseen by the NSA are legal, dismissing a case brought against the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, by the ACLU.
In his 53 page ruling, Pauley stated, “The question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is. But the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide.”
In order to defend the lawfulness of the NSA surveillance program, Pauley pointed to the intent behind the program following its creation after the events of 9/11: "The government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world. It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program — a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data."
Elaborating on the importance of the NSA surveillance program due to the one previous terrorist attack from al-Qaeda, Pauley stated that the mass phone metadata collection “significantly increases the NSA’s capability to detect the faintest patterns left behind by individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations. Armed with all the metadata, NSA can draw connections it might otherwise never be able to find.”
The decision by Pauley runs counter to the decision reached by fellow federal judge in D.C., Judge Richard Leon. On December 16th, Judge Leon ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying that the actions of the NSA were most likely unconstitutional, placing an injunction against the NSA from spying on his plaintiffs. The injunction allows the federal government to appeal Leon's ruling.
Pauley's decision also runs counter to the findings of a recent White House panel which investigated the effectiveness of the NSA's actions. Following the recent decision by Judge Leon and general unrest from the public concerning the NSA's surveillance program, President Obama created a panel to determine what changes, if any, should be made to the NSA's collection practices.
In determining how effective the NSA had been in preventing terrorist attacks from occurring, the panel found no instances in which the NSA had thwarted a terrorist attempt through the collection of phone metadata.
“It was, ‘Huh, hello? What are we doing here?’” opined Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago.
Following the results of the research, the panel suggested that the NSA surveillance program should be ended to protect the personal security and privacy of the American people.
In his ruling, however, Judge Pauley also commented on the potential violation of the 4th Amendment, which protects against unlawful searches and seizures, stating that protection against searches and seizures "is fundamental, but not absolute."
"Every day, people voluntarily surrender personal and seemingly-private information to transnational corporations, which exploit that data for profit. Few think twice about it, even though it is far more intrusive than bulk telephony metadata collection," ruled Pauley.
This decision is a big step towards legality for the NSA, an organization that has been under increasing fire, lately, due to its perceived intrusiveness and ineffectiveness. However, the court case in D.C. is still awaiting an appeal from the federal government. Most likely, Judge Leon will still rule against the NSA program, leaving the agency dead in the water, especially following the results of the White House investigative panel. While the decision by Judge Pauley is positive for the NSA, it may have been only a temporary life preserver.
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