The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an appeal against the US National Security Agency’s indiscriminate collection of telephone metadata after the group’s suit seeking to halt the policy was dismissed last week.
The ACLU first filed suit against Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in June 2013, just after the Edward Snowden’s disclosure about the classified NSA program that regularly compels phone companies to provide the government with millions of phone records. The civil liberties advocacy group argued that the program violated Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.
US District Judge William Pauley disagreed, dismissing the case on December 27 and declaring that the NSA program is subject to harsh oversight and is needed to effectively fight terrorism.
“There is no evidence that the government has used any of the bulk telephony metadata it collected for any purpose other than investigating and disrupting terrorist attacks,” he wrote. “While there have been unintentional violation of guidelines, those appear to stem from human error and the incredibly complex computer programs that support this vital tool.”
The ACLU vowed immediately that is would press on and on Thursday filed an appeal again challenging the collection program, which does not monitor individual conversations but tracks numbers dialed, as well as the time and duration of the calls. Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, said he expects the Second Circuit Court of appeals to hear oral arguments on the case in the springtime.
“The government has a legitimate interest in tracking the associations of suspected terrorists, but tracking those associations does not require the government to subject every citizen to permanent surveillance,” Jaffer said in a press release. “Further, as the President’s own review panel recently observed, there’s no evidence that this dragnet program was essential to preventing any terrorist attack. We categorically reject the notion that the threat of terrorism requires citizens of democratic countries to surrender the freedoms that make democracies worth defending.”
Just how the appeals court will rule is impossible to predict. Judges, as well as lawmakers, are split regarding the legality of the NSA programs.
US District Judge Richard Leon ruled in December that the NSA’s collection of phone metadata was likely unconstitutional, issuing preliminary injunctions to stop the metadata collection.
“The question I will ultimately have to answer when I reach the merits of this case someday is whether people have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is violated when the government, without any bias whatsoever to suspect them of wrongdoing, collects and stores for five years their telephony metadata for purposes of subjecting it to high-tech querying and analysis without any case-by-case judicial approval,” Leon wrote in what was an encouraging sign for privacy advocates.
Also in agreement was the panel appointed by US President Obama to review the NSA’s surveillance policies. The review group issued its recommendations early last month, advising Obama and the NSA to discontinue the phone metadata collection. Among other suggestions, the panel said it would ban such surveillance tactics and delete the large cache of phone and internet data the NSA currently has stored.