US judge rules that NSA surveillance programme is lawful
Reuters in New York
A US judge ruled the National Security Agency's programme that collects records of millions of Americans' phone calls is lawful, rejecting a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union to the controversial counter-terrorism programme.
Yesterday's decision by US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan diverges from a December 16 ruling by US District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., who said the "almost Orwellian" programme was likely unconstitutional.
The programme's existence had first been disclosed by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaks have detailed the breadth of US electronic surveillance.
In a 54-page decision, Pauley said the programme "vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States".
But he said the programme's constitutionality "is ultimately a question of reasonableness," and that there was no evidence that the government had used "bulk telephony metadata" for any reason other than to investigate and disrupt terrorist attacks.
"Technology allowed al-Qaeda to operate decentralised and plot international terrorist attacks remotely," Pauley wrote. "The bulk telephony metadata collection programme represents the government's counter-punch."
The judge denied the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction and granted a government motion to dismiss the case.
US President Barack Obama has defended the surveillance programme, but indicated a willingness to consider constraints.
A US Department of Justice spokesman said the department was pleased with the decision.