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Appeals court halts judge's order against NSA's phone surveillance program

By
Doug G. Ware
A federal appeals court on Tuesday suspended a lower court's decision that declared the NSA's bulk phone data collection program unconstitutional. A district court decided Monday that the program is illegal and should be shut down immediately. Government attorneys filed an emergency motion and argued that the lower court's ruling interferes with a U.S. terrorism-fighting program that has been previously upheld by other courts. File Photo by ProKasia/Shutterstock
A federal appeals court on Tuesday suspended a lower court's decision that declared the NSA's bulk phone data collection program unconstitutional. A district court decided Monday that the program is illegal and should be shut down immediately. Government attorneys filed an emergency motion and argued that the lower court's ruling interferes with a U.S. terrorism-fighting program that has been previously upheld by other courts. File Photo by ProKasia/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday suspended a judge's ruling that said the U.S. National Security Agency's phone data collection program is unconstitutional and should be shut down immediately.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its stay Tuesday -- one day after the federal district judge made his ruling.

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District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled Monday that the NSA's program, called PRISM, goes too far against citizens' privacy rights in its goal of combating terrorism. His decision constituted an order barring the agency from further collecting of data on the plaintiffs in the case -- California attorney J.J. Little and his law firm -- but it did not have sufficient authority to outlaw the practice against all Americans.

Government attorneys responded with an emergency request to halt Leon's order, saying it interferes with a terror-fighting program that has previously been legally upheld by other court rulings.

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The once-secret program, which was revealed in 2013 by former defense contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, is set to be closed and replaced by Nov. 29.

Leon's decision came two years after he ruled in a similar fashion, but this time he did not stay an order for the NSA to cease mining callers' data.

"I [stayed the order in 2013] with the optimistic hope that the appeals process would move expeditiously," Leon wrote Monday. "However, because it has almost been two years since I first found that the NSA's Bulk Telephony Metadata program likely violates the Constitution and because the loss of constitutional freedoms for even one day is a significant harm, I will not do so today."

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However, the three-member appellate court disagreed.

"Upon consideration of the emergency motion for a stay and for an administrative stay, it is ordered that [Leon's] order issued November 9, 2015, be stayed pending further order of the court," the court said in its ruling Tuesday. "The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the motion for a stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion."

The appellate court said the plaintiffs in the case -- those opposed to the NSA program -- have until noon local time Friday to file an appeal to Tuesday's decision.

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Government attorneys have indicated they will take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if the order against the NSA program is upheld.

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