Following the ruling by District Judge Richard Leon in Washington stating that the NSA domestic spying program was illegal, in the New York District, District Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that the program was legal:
A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that the massive collection of domestic telephone data brought to light by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is lawful, rejecting a challenge to the program by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The decision marked a victory for the government less than two weeks after a District Court judge ruled against it, finding that the NSA’s program was almost certainly unconstitutional. If the split in rulings continues through the appeals process, it is likely the Supreme Court will have to decide the issue.
In a 53-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said Friday that the program, which collects virtually all Americans’ phone records, represents the U.S. government’s “counter-punch” to eliminate the al-Qaeda terrorist network and does not violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
Pauley endorsed the assertion made by government officials that if the United States had the phone data collection program before 2001, they might have had a better chance at preventing the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world,” Pauley wrote. “It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program — a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.”
He added: “This blunt tool only works because it collects everything.”
Yes, this ruling is as cowardly and delusional as it sounds. As Charlie Pierce observes, “It cannot be easy issuing an important ruling while hiding under your bed.”
I would also note that this ruling does not appear to address any real constitutional issues, and it relies on facts not in evidence. (The judge implies that the program has produced intelligence successes, when it has not.)
The Washington Post‘s technology reporter has called the ruling, “Kafkaesque.”
It should also be noted that some of the claims made by the government are flat out wrong. For instance, the NSA has real time data as to the countries of both callers.
What’s more there are increasing indications that the NSA’s “drinking from a fire hose” strategy is actually harming its intelligence capabilities:
William Binney, creator of some of the computer code used by the National Security Agency to snoop on Internet traffic around the world, delivered an unusual message here in September to an audience worried that the spy agency knows too much.
It knows so much, he said, that it can’t understand what it has.
“What they are doing is making themselves dysfunctional by taking all this data,” Mr. Binney said at a privacy conference here.
The agency is drowning in useless data, which harms its ability to conduct legitimate surveillance, claims Mr. Binney, who rose to the civilian equivalent of a general during more than 30 years at the NSA before retiring in 2001. Analysts are swamped with so much information that they can’t do their jobs effectively, and the enormous stockpile is an irresistible temptation for misuse.
This is not about safety.
Rather it emerges from a miasma of political expedience, cowardice, and the increasingly for-profit nature of our state security apparatus.