New York judge rules NSA programme is lawful

Ruling increases likelihood Supreme Court will have to resolve issue

The headquarters of the US National Security Administration in Fort Meade, Maryland, seen behind a state trooper parked in an unmarked SUV. Photograph: EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

The headquarters of the US National Security Administration in Fort Meade, Maryland, seen behind a state trooper parked in an unmarked SUV. Photograph: EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Sat, Dec 28, 2013, 01:00


A federal judge in New York yesterday ruled that the US National Security Agency’s programme that is systematically keeping phone records of all Americans is lawful, creating a conflict among lower courts and increasing the likelihood that the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court.

In the ruling, Judge William Pauley, of the district court for the southern district of New York, granted a motion filed by the federal government to dismiss a challenge to the programme brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had attempted to halt the programme.


Fourth amendment
The judge said protections under the constitution’s fourth amendment did not apply to records held by third parties, such as phone companies.

“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” the judge said in his ruling. “While robust discussions are under way across the nation, in Congress and at the White House, the question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata programme is lawful. This court finds it is.”

The ruling comes nearly two weeks after Judge Richard J Leon of district court for the district of Columbia said the programme most likely violated the fourth amendment. As part of the ruling, he ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs who brought the case against the government.

In his ruling, judge Leon said the programme “infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the fourth amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

While he ordered the government to stop collecting data on the two plaintiffs, he stayed the ruling, giving the government time to appeal the decision.