By David Kravets | WIRED.com
The Obama administration for the first time responded to a Spygate lawsuit, telling a federal judge the wholesale vacuuming up of all phone-call metadata in the United States is in the “public interest,” does not breach the constitutional rights of Americans and cannot be challenged in a court of law.
Thursday’s response marks the first time the administration has officially answered one of at least four lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of a secret U.S. snooping program the Guardian newspaper disclosed last month. The administration’s filing sets the stage for what is to be a lengthy legal odyssey — one likely to outlive the Obama presidency — that will define the privacy rights of Americans for years to come.
The New York federal district court lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, demands a federal judge immediately halt the spy program the civil rights group labeled as “one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government.”
The Guardian last month posted a leaked copy of a top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion requiring Verizon Business to provide the National Security Agency the phone numbers of both parties involved in all calls, the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number for mobile callers, calling card numbers used in the call, and the time and duration of the calls.
The suit, brought on behalf of the ACLU’s employees, alleges breaches of the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment and names Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander and FBI Director Robert Mueller, among others.
“… the alleged metadata program is fully consistent with the Fourth Amendment. Most fundamentally, the program does not involve “searches” of plaintiffs’ persons or effects, because the collection of telephony metadata from the business records of a third-party telephone service provider, without collecting the contents of plaintiffs’ communications, implicates no ‘legitimate expectation of privacy’ that is protected by the Constitution,” (.pdf) David S. Jones, an assistant United States attorney, wrote U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley in a Thursday filing.
Because the Fourth Amendment is not breached, it follows that the First Amendment is not violated either, Jones wrote.