Compliance Management, Privacy

ACLU asks appeals court to bar NSA bulk collection of data

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has asked a federal appeals court in a brief filed Tuesday to bar the National Security Agency (NSA) from bulk collection of phone records.

“This dragnet surveillance program should never have been launched, and it should certainly be terminated now,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a Tuesday release. “Not even the government contends anymore that the program has been effective, and the 2nd Circuit has already concluded that the program is illegal. It's a needless and unlawful intrusion into the privacy rights of millions of innocent Americans.”

In May a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the program to be illegal but refrained from issuing an injunction because Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which ostensibly authorized the NSA program, were set to expire June 1 if Congress did not act.

But government had contended to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that the recently passed USA Freedom Act allows the bulk collection - which was suspended briefly when Section 215 expired - during a 180-day transition period to the new law, and noted “that Second Circuit rulings do not constitute controlling precedent” for the FISC.

In asking for a preliminary injunction in the Tuesday brief, in the ACLU v. Clapper, a case brought by the civil rights organization in 2013, the ACLU essentially said the government was misinterpreting the law.

“The government is collecting call records in bulk under the same statutory authority this Court previously held did not permit it; the government intends to continue this surveillance for at least 180 days; and the government apparently intends to retain and use the fruits of its unlawful surveillance indefinitely,” the brief said, contending that government also “apparently intends to retain and use the fruits of its unlawful surveillance indefinitely.”

ACLU Staff Attorney Alex Abdo, who argued the Clapper case before the second circuit, noted in a statement that “government says it will wind down this unconstitutional program eventually, but the Constitution doesn't have a grace period.”

He added, “Bulk collection is unconstitutional and must end.”

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