A federal judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled [text, PDF] on Friday that the National Security Agency's (NSA) [official website] PRISM [JURIST backgrounder] program, which includes massive collection of American citizens' telephone records, is legal. Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that the program was permitted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the Fourth Amendment [LII backgrounders] because it served a legitimate, useful purpose. The opinion observed that "the natural tension between protecting the nation and preserving civil liberties is squarely presented by the Government's bulk telephony metadata collection program." Though the program was deemed lawful, the opinion stated that it was up to the other two branches of government to decide whether it should be conducted. The ruling granted the government's motion to dismiss the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] to halt the program. This ruling conflicts with a decision last week by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], which ruled [JURIST report] that the program is unconstitutional. The ACLU announced on Friday that it intends to appeal [press release] the ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website]. There is speculation that the Supreme Court will ultimately hear the case [NYT report].
The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Last week, the US released documents [JURIST report] concerning the origins of NSA surveillance. In September the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court released [JURIST report] a previously classified opinion [text, PDF] explaining why a NSA program to keep records of Americans' phone calls is constitutional. Also in September the ACLU urged the Obama administration [JURIST report] to curb the FBI's surveillance powers. In August the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns[JURIST op-ed].