The federal surveillance court has released a declassified opinion that upholds the National Security Agency’s (NSA) phone program. The FISA court decided that the gathering of billions of phone records for counterterrorism purposes was constitutional and justified.
Gathering of “all call detail records” of phone companies by NSA is justifiable as long as the gathering of the data is relevant to an authorized investigation. The most significant part of the ruling is that it mentions that the data is justifiable if the government can show that there is an authorized investigation into unknown terrorists who may be in the United States. This begs the question of how there could possibly be an authorized investigation into unknown terroristic persons on reasonable grounds without the collection of the phone data.
According to the opinion, the government only needs “reasonable grounds to believe” that the phone records will be relevant to the investigation in order to legally collect the phone records. The burden of proof the government needs is much lower than that needed in a criminal investigation. The court claims this is because the goal is not to solve a crime but to prevent a terrorist attack.
Critics claim that the opinion released by the court is not justifiable by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) or the Constitution. Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, told the Washington Post, “This isn’t a judicial opinion in the conventional sense. It’s a document that appears to have been cobbled together over the last few weeks in an effort to justify a decision that was made seven years ago. I don’t know of any precedent for that, and it raises a lot of questions.”
Privacy issues have come into question when Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA spy program. The government’s stance from the beginning has been that the broad collection of data is needed to find unknown terrorist operatives in the United States. It is still unclear how much scope the NSA program actually has over the data it has collected from billions of homes across the nation.
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