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NSA resumes collecting bulk phone data with court approval

By
Amy R. Connolly

WASHINGTON, July 1 (UPI) -- The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court gave the National Security Agency the green light to collect America's domestic cell phone records for at least five more months, despite a federal appeals court ruling that determined the surveillance program was illegal, putting the two courts at odds.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday it would ask a United States Appeals Court to issue an injunction to halt the surveillance program, which allows for the collection of phone metadata, including call times, dates and durations, to scan for links to foreign terrorists.

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The NSA's collection of American cell phone records was halted on June 1, when Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act expired. The next day, Congress revised the provision with the USA Freedom Act, which allowed the government more limited surveillance powers and allows for data collection for six more months so intelligence agencies can move to a new system.

Shortly after passage of the Freedom Act provision, conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks and Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, asked the surveillance court to stop data collection immediately. About the same time, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled Section 215 of the Patriot Act was unlawful, but did not go as far as issuing an injunction to stop the program.

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The ACLU plans to revisit the issue in court.

"Neither the statute nor the Constitution permits the government to subject millions of innocent people to this kind of intrusive surveillance," said ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. "We intend to ask the court to prohibit the surveillance and to order the N.S.A. to purge the records it's already collected."

In a 26-page opinion made public Tuesday, Judge Michael W. Mosman opened with "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" -- the more things change, the more they stay the same. He made it clear the Second Circuit ruling is "not binding" on the surveillance court.

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"The question, therefore, is whether Congress has authorized bulk acquisition of call detail records during the interim 180-day period. The Court finds that it has," Mosman wrote. "In passing the USA Freedom Act, Congress clearly intended to end bulk data collection of business records and other tangible things. But what it took away with one hand, it gave back – for a limited time – with the other."

Resumption of data collection will last until Nov. 29.

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