The federal government’s ability to keep a massive database on Americans’ phone records is set to get further scrutiny as the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday asked an appeals court to review a recent decision that found the database to be lawful.
According to the ACLU, US District Judge William Pauley III erred in a December 27 ruling when he concluded that the NSA’s collection of telephony metadata — a comprehensive record of phone number activity supplied by Verizon and phone carriers — does not amount to an illegal search under the Constitution.
Pauley III repeatedly invoked the specter of terrorist attacks and the government’s need to “connect dots” to say the program is lawful, and throw out the ACLU’s complaint. The judge’s position upset civil libertarians.
“The government has a legitimate interest in tracking the associations of suspected terrorists, but tracking those associations does not require the government to subject every citizen to permanent surveillance,” said the ACLU in a statement announcing the appeal.
The ACLU also pointed to a contrary ruling issued weeks earlier in Washington, DC, in which a different federal judge concluded that the database was likely illegal and described the program as “Orwellian.” Last month also saw a review panel appointed by President Obama calling for major changes to the program.
The split in court rulings and the intense media scrutiny of the NSA’s activities following leaks by Edward Snowden mean the issues are likely to come before the Supreme Court in the next year.