WASHINGTON — The secretive federal court that oversees government surveillance released a recent opinion Tuesday that explains and defends its decisions giving the National Security Agency broad power to collect the phone records of all Americans.
At issue were decisions going back to 2006 that permitted the agency to order phone companies to turn over the dialing records of calls made in this country. This “metadata” did not include the names of the callers, nor did it include the content of the calls.
Civil libertarians and many others objected this summer when documents leaked by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed this mass surveillance policy.
Writing in an Aug. 29 opinion, Judge Claire Eagan said the Constitution’s protection against “unreasonable searches” was not triggered by such searches because dialing records — unlike the words spoken on a phone call — are not private. She cited a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that made clear police can obtain phone records without a search warrant.
Of course, this 1979 ruling came down well before the tools existed to manipulate “big data” into revealing deeply private and personal information about individual citizens.
But hey. Whatever works.