Court rules NSA phone spying legal, conflicts opinion of another District Court

In a blow to a recent ruling that found a government phone record collection program as “likely” illegal, a New York Times report says that a federal judge from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has ruled the NSA spying program constitutional.

nsa_signJudge William H. Pauley III granted a U.S. government request to dismiss a federal lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union to halt a controversial NSA spying program that allows the federal government to collect and stockpile phone records of American citizens.

“We are extremely disappointed with this decision, which misinterprets the relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “As another federal judge and the president’s own review group concluded last week, the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephony data constitutes a serious invasion of Americans’ privacy. We intend to appeal and look forward to making our case in the Second Circuit.”

In Pauley’s ruling he stated, “The right to be free from searches and seizures is fundamental, but not absolute” and that the protection of bulk telephone data “is ultimately a question of reasonableness”. Pauley goes on to say, “Every day, people voluntarily surrender personal and seemingly-private information to national corporations, which exploit that data for profit. Few think twice about it, even though it is far more intrusive that bulk telephony metadata collection.”

Few think twice because many are unaware of the practices by organizations or are undereducated of the risks of the behavior. The greater question is how does this have bearing on what is legal and what is not? May we remember “ignorantia legis neminem excusat”. Ignorance of a law doesn’t excuse anyone. Your claim to ignorance, valid or not, doesn’t excuse certain behavior. In the same, voluntarily doing something or being ignorant of something doesn’t make something legal. The use of this as a defense of an out of control government spying program and how it doesn’t fall under Fourth Amendment protection clearly denies the basic principles of liberty and the governments duty to protect society.

The judge’s ruling went on to say that there was no evidence of the government using the data for purposes outside of “investigating and disrupting terrorists attacks”. In contrast U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon not only found that the program violated the Fourth Amendment but that “the White House Justice Department failed to show that the bulk data collection of American phone records had done anything to significantly thwart terrorist attacks.”

The ACLU is planning to appeal the District Court ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and will undoubtedly help push the question of the NSA spying program’s constitutionality to the Supreme Court.