The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced on Thursday that it had filed an appeal to federal court decision upholding the legality of the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program.
“We believe that the NSA’s call-tracking program violates both statutory law and the Constitution, and we look forward to making our case in the appeals court,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, in a statement. “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.”
“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,” he added.
U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley ruled last week that the NSA bulk data collection program is legal and dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit. In a 53-page opinion, he argued that Americans don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to third-party records, including phone records. The legal precedent for the opinion was established in Smith v. Maryland, a case that was decided in 1979, before the existence of modern digital communications.
He also argued that the bulk data collection program could have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attack, a claim that simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
This decision came a little more than a week after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA surveillance program is “very 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.”
The White House Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology recommended that President Obama end the NSA’s bulk data collection program. The group’s report suggests that data still be retained by phone companies or a third-party for purposes of searches whenever authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). There are also legislative reforms recommended that would limit the extent of the program.
The five-member group also noted that the NSA’s bulk data collection program “was not essentially to preventing attacks,” contradicting claims made by President Obama and intelligence officials.