New York (AFP) – A U.S. judge ruled Friday that the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of telephone calls is lawful, fanning a legal conflict likely to be decided ultimately by the Supreme Court.
Federal judge William Pauley in New York threw out a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union and said the program was vital in preventing an Al-Qaeda terror attack on American soil.
Ten days earlier, however, another federal judge in Washington had deemed that NSA surveillance is probably unconstitutional, laying the groundwork for a protracted series of legal challenges.
“The question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephone metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is,” said the 54-page ruling published in New York on Friday.
The scale by which NSA indiscriminately gathers data on millions of private calls was exposed by intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, sparking an international and domestic outcry.
Protected by judicial checks and executive and congressional oversight, Pauley said the program does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s fourth amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“There is no evidence that the government has used any of the bulk telephony metadata it collected for any purpose other than investigating and disrupting terrorist attacks,” he wrote.
The judge sided with U.S. spy chiefs who say that by connecting the dots between archived calls and terrorist suspects, U.S. officials can keep the country safe.