A federal judge has concluded that the National Security Agency's sweeping collection of telephone data is lawful, rejecting a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union to the program.
U.S. District Judge William Pauley's decision Friday diverges from a Dec. 16 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., who said the "almost Orwellian'' program was likely unconstitutional.
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The program's existence had first been disclosed by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaks have detailed the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance and sparked a debate over how much leeway to give the government in protecting Americans from terrorism.
In a 54-page decision, Pauley said the program "vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States.''
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But the Manhattan federal judge said the program's constitutionality "is ultimately a question of reasonableness,'' and that there was no evidence that the government had used "bulk telephony metadata'' for any reason other than to investigate and disrupt terrorist attacks.
"Technology allowed al Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attacks remotely,'' Pauley wrote. "The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the government's counter-punch.''
The judge denied the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction and granted a government motion to dismiss the case.
President Barack Obama has defended the surveillance program, but indicated a willingness to consider constraints.
The ACLU had no immediate comment. The White House was not immediately available for comment. A Justice Department spokesman said the department is pleased with the decision.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism, in a statement said Pauley's decision "preserves a vital weapon for the United States in our war against international terrorism.''
The case is American Civil Liberties Union et al v. Clapper et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-03994.