WASHINGTON – The US government said Friday it is appealing a judge’s ruling that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records is unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian.”
The Justice Department filed a notice of appeal with the court following last month’s ruling by Judge Richard Leon.
Arguments and briefs in the case will be filed at a later date.
The scathing December 16 ruling by the federal judge in Washington was stayed pending appeal, but if upheld it could lead to the spy agency being barred from indiscriminately monitoring millions of private calls.
“I cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen,” Leon said in his opinion.
It is among several court cases pending which challenge the vast surveillance programs spearheaded by NSA and disclosed in documents leaked by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
On December 27, Federal Judge William Pauley in New York dismissed a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union and said the NSA program on phone data was a vital tool to help prevent an Al-Qaeda terror attack on American soil. The ACLU said it would appeal that decision.
The apparently contradictory rulings make it likely the US Supreme Court will decide on the constitutionality of the NSA programs.
Separately Friday, a civil rights group asked the US Supreme Court to review a case challenging the authority of NSA surveillance.
The Center for Constitutional Rights petitioned the Supreme Court said the Snowden revelations provide new information which should lead the justices to revisit the matter.
“We have always been confident that our communications — including privileged attorney-client phone calls — were being unlawfully monitored by the NSA, but Edward Snowden’s revelations of a massive, indiscriminate NSA spying program changes the picture,” said CCR attorney Shayana Kadidal.
“Federal courts have dismissed surveillance cases, including ours, based on criteria established before Snowden’s documents proved that such concerns are obviously well-founded.”
In a related matter, more than 250 academics from around the world signed an online petition this week calling for an end to “blanket mass surveillance” by intelligence agencies.
The petition said revelations of mass surveillance in documents leaked Snowden violate “a fundamental right” protected by international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“This has to stop,” said the petition (academicsagainstsurveillance.net), an initiative of four academics from the University of Amsterdam.
“Without privacy people cannot freely express their opinions or seek and receive information. Moreover, mass surveillance turns the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt… secret and unfettered surveillance practices violate fundamental rights and the rule of law, and undermine democracy.
“The signatories of this declaration call upon nation states to take action. Intelligence agencies must be subjected to transparency and accountability. People must be free from blanket mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies from their own or foreign countries.”
The signatories include academics in the Netherlands, Britain, Germany and the United States.
Among them are Oxford University’s Joss Wright, Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University, Aleecia McDonald of the Center for Internet & Society at Stanford University and Bruce Schneier of the Berkman Institute for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
Other signatories included academics from Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand.
On Thursday, a report indicated that the NSA is making strides toward building a “quantum computer” that could break nearly any kind of encryption.
The Washington Post said leaked documents from Snowden indicate the computer would allow the secret intelligence agency to break encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.