Washington (AFP) – A key senator who backs bulk data collection disagreed Tuesday with a U.S. judge who declared the National Security Agency (NSA) program may be unconstitutional, saying the Supreme Court should settle the matter.
Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the powerful Senate Intelligence committee, said Monday’s ruling by U.S.District Court Judge Richard Leon flies in the face of decisions by several other federal judges who have upheld the controversial program.
Leon startled the intelligence community when he warned of the “almost Orwellian” degree to which the NSA is scooping up metadata on nearly every American, and how that might be a violation of the constitutional prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure.
But Feinstein pointed to a “real-world terrorist case” from last February against an associate of Al-Qaeda, in which another judge, Jeffrey Miller, found the program to be constitutional.
“Judge Leon’s opinion also differs from those of at least 15 separate federal district court judges who sit, or have sat, on the FISA Court (the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) and have reauthorized the program every 90 days — a total 35 times in all,” Feinstein said in a statement.
Ultimately, however, “only the Supreme Court can resolve the question on the constitutionality of the NSA’s program,” Feinstein said.
Leon’s ruling, on hold while the government appeals, would bar U.S. authorities from continuing their bulk data collection without judicial approval.
The case was brought this year against President Barack Obama’s administration, after security contractor Edward Snowden leaked a motherload of documents revealing the scope of the digital dragnet.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in as well, saying he was aware that there was a growing pressure in Congress to reform domestic espionage rules.
“We know that senators, both Democrats and Republicans, would like to change the law as it relates to some of the collection activities,” Reid said Tuesday. “I think we need a good public debate on this,” Reid said, but added that the rulings on bulk collection “don’t agree with what Leon said.”
The comments came as executives of Internet giants pressed Obama at the White House to make reforms to a related electronic data-mining operation known as PRISM, which they fear violates customers’ privacy.