Federal judge dismisses legal challenge to NSA surveillance

A federal district judge ruled this morning that the National Security Agency’s phone metadata surveillance program is constitutional and dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In a 53-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley acknowledged that the NSA phone surveillance program “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States.” But he opined that the program could have prevented the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“As the September 11th attacks demonstrate, the cost of missing such a thread can be horrific,” wrote Pauley in ACLU v. Clapper. “Technology allowed al-Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attack remotely.”

“The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the Government’s counter-punch: connecting fragmented and fleeting communications to re-construct and eliminate al-Qaeda’s terror network,” he added.

Pauley acknowledged that there have been “unintentional violations of guidelines,” but dismissed this at “human error” and “incredibly complex computer programs that support this vital tool.” He also wrote that the program is “subject to executive and congressional oversight” and “monitoring” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

Pauley was appointed to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in May 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton. He was confirmed by the Senate in October 1998. The court on which Pauley serves is based in New York City.

In its recent report, the White House Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology undermined President Barack Obama and intelligence officials’ claims that the NSA phone surveillance program had prevented terrorist attacks.

“Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony metadata was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional section 215 orders,” wrote the five-member panel, which was sanctioned by President Obama.

The decision comes a little more than a week after U.S. District Court Richard Leon ruled that the NSA surveillance program is “likely unconstitutional.” Leon blasted the government’s interpretation of previous, out-dated court precedent and stated that Americans have a “very significant expectation of privacy.”


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