The National Security Agency doesn’t think it’s relevant that its dragnet of American telephone data — information on who’s calling who, when, and for how long — was ruled illegal back in May.
An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit is asking the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which reached that conclusion, to immediately enjoin the program.
But the U.S. government responded on Monday evening, saying that Congressional passage of the USA Freedom Act trumped the earlier ruling. The Freedom Act ordered an end to the program — but with a six-month wind-down period.
“Contrary to plaintiffs’ insistence, Congress in that legislation did not contemplate an abrupt and immediate end to the Section 215 bulk telephony-metadata program,” the Justice Department argued in its latest brief. “Quite the opposite … That transition period reflects Congress’s and the President’s combined judgment that there should be an orderly transition from the existing program to the new one, during which the government should retain needed tools to protect against the continuing terrorist threat.”
The ACLU still maintains that even temporary revival is a blatant infringement on American’s legal rights. “We strongly disagree with the government’s claim that recent reform legislation was meant to give the NSA’s phone-records dragnet a new lease on life,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director in a statement. “The appeals court should order the NSA to end this surveillance now. It’s unlawful and it’s an entirely unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of millions of people.”
On Monday, the Obama administration announced that at the same time the National Security Agency ends the dragnet, it will also stop perusing the vast archive of data collected by the program.
Read the U.S. government brief responding to the ACLU below:
Image: NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.