| NEW YORK, Sept 2
NEW YORK, Sept 2 A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday
grilled an Obama administration lawyer about the legality of the
continuing collection of millions of Americans' phone records,
adding fuel to a debate that has raged since the spy program was
revealed more than a year ago.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York was the
first appellate court to hear arguments on whether the National
Security Agency (NSA) program is lawful, in a lawsuit brought by
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging the
gathering of so-called metadata.
Judge Gerard Lynch, one of three judges who heard the
arguments, said it was "hard for me to imagine" Congress had
envisioned such a sweeping effort when it passed an expansion of
anti-terrorism powers known as the Patriot Act after the attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001.
Stuart Delery, a lawyer for the Justice Department, told
Lynch in response that Congress was fully informed when it voted
to reauthorize the Patriot Act twice.
The two other judges, Robert Sack and Vernon Broderick, also
expressed skepticism about the program's legality, although it
can be difficult to infer judges' eventual rulings from
questions at oral argument. The panel could take several months
to issue a decision.
In December, U.S. District Judge William Pauley of New York
ruled against the ACLU, saying the program could prevent future
Pauley's ruling departed from an earlier decision by U.S.
District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, who said the
"Orwellian" program likely violated the U.S. Constitution's
Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches.
An appeals court in Washington is scheduled to take up that
case on Nov. 4, raising the possibility that the U.S. Supreme
Court will eventually be asked to resolve the issue.
The spy program, which the government says is permitted
under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, records phone numbers
dialed as well as the time and duration of calls. Intelligence
agents use the data to track a suspect's contacts, according to
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaks revealed the
program in June 2013, prompting an outcry from privacy
advocates. In response, President Barack Obama has called on
Congress to impose limits. Proposed legislation has not yet gone
to a vote.
Alex Abdo, an ACLU lawyer, told the court the government's
position represented a "road map to a world in which the
government routinely collects vast quantities of information
about Americans who have done absolutely nothing wrong."
"I don't think that's the world that Congress envisioned
when it enacted Section 215, and it's certainly not the world
that the framers envisioned when they crafted the Fourth
Amendment," he said.
Lynch appeared sympathetic to that argument, saying the
government's logic would likely allow the collection of bulk
financial data and email records as well.
Delery emphasized the program had been vetted by all three
branches of the government: Congress, the Obama administration
and the specialized court in Washington that handles
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Ingram and Jonathan