Secret Surveillance Court Okays NSA Phone Data Collections

By:  Jack Kenny
09/18/2013
       
Secret Surveillance Court Okays NSA Phone Data Collections

On Tuesday the U.S. government's secret surveillance court declassified and released a decision defending the practice of the National Security Agency in collecting billions of phone call records every day. 

In a 29-page decision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Judge Claire V. Eagan of the U.S. District Court of Northern Oklahoma ruled that the practice did not violate Americans' privacy rights. A key finding in Judge Eagan's ruling was that none of the telecommunications companies whose records were subpoenaed by order of the secret court has challenged the searches. 

"To date, no holder of records who has received an order to produce bulk telephony metadata has challenged the legality of such an order," the judge wrote. The ruling also acknowledged the publicity and controversy the program has received since data engineer Edward J. Snowden, an employee of NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, turned over documents revealing the nature of the program to the British newspaper The Guardian. The information revealed that the NSA has also been collecting billions of e-mail and other electronic communications daily. She ruled collection of the phone records legal, finding the records "are relevant to authorized investigations."

She cited as authority for such widespread investigations Section 215, pertaining to the collection of business records, of the PATRIOT Act, a law passed by Congress in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The searches have raised concerns, however, among defenders of constitutional guarantees related to searches, who have questioned how the collection of the phone records of virtually the entire population can be related to "authorized investigations."  According to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, warrants may only be issued for searches "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

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