The National Security Agency’s practice of vacuuming up the phone call records, or metadata, of virtually every American can continue, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has ruled. The move comes amidst an intensifying legal battle over the practice, with two federal judges in recent weeks coming to opposite conclusions over the constitutionality of the NSA’s metadata mining practices.
The FISC order renewing the so-called telephony metadata collection has not yet been declassified, reports the Huffington Post. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has, however, released a statement confirming that the NSA may legally continue the practice, which it says has withstood judicial scrutiny.
“It is the administration’s view, consistent with the recent holdings of the United States District Courts for the Southern District of New York and Southern District of California, as well as the findings of 15 judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on 36 separate occasions over the past seven years, that the telephony metadata collection program is lawful,” Clapper said in a statement.
In December, US District Judge Richard Leon found the NSA’s phone metadata collection “likely unconstitutional,” and described the practice as “almost Orwellian.” According to Leon, the technology to derive vast troves of information about people based solely on their phone call records renders earlier court decisions about the collection’s legality irrelevant.
On Friday, the US Department of Justice said it would appeal Leon’s ruling.
Shortly after Leon’s ruling against the NSA’s phone metatdata collection, another federal judge, US District Judge William Pauley, upheld the constitutionality of the practice, and called it a “vital tool” in the fight against terrorism.
In light of the legal disagreements about the NSA’s surveillance practices, as well as a presidential review board recommendation to take certain powers away from the NSA, Clapper says the Obama administration plans to “review” the practice and consider alternative methods.
“The Administration will review all of these recommendations and consult with Congress and the Intelligence Community to determine if there are ways to achieve our counterterrorism mission in a manner that gives the American people greater confidence,” Clapper said.