Suit Over NSA Spying Shouldn't Face Shutdown Stay, ACLU Says

     MANHATTAN (CN) - The government shutdown should not hobble the challenge to massive telephone surveillance by the NSA, the ACLU told a federal judge.
     The American Civil Liberties Union asked U.S. District Judge William Pauley on Thursday to lift a stay imposed earlier this month by Chief Judge Loretta Preska with the Southern District of New York. On the first day of the shutdown, Preska had ordered that all civil cases requiring counsel from the U.S. Attorney's Office be tolled.
     In addition to lifting Preska's stay, the ACLU wants to reset the filing dates for the lawsuit it filed in June against the NSA's telephone-data-collection efforts.
     "It now seems likely that the open-ended stay of the proceedings" in the case will, "if left in place, significantly delay resolution of plaintiffs' motion and result in plaintiffs' suffering additional and unnecessary injuries," the ACLU's letter states.
     The ACLU says the government is collecting a record of "every single phone call" every American makes or receives. "That surveillance intrudes upon plaintiffs' sensitive associations and communications," the ACLU claimed. "It also compromises plaintiffs' advocacy, public-interest litigation and legislative efforts."
     Delaying proceedings "deprives the public and Congress" of "information that is highly relevant to their ongoing consideration of the government's surveillance authorities," the letter states.
     While "cognizant" of the financial restraints that the government shutdown has placed on the Department of Justice, the ACLU says that, "given the nature of the challenged conduct," a stay of the chief judge's order is "warranted and necessary."
     Judge Pauley should require all parties to file reply briefs by Oct. 29 and begin oral arguments a week later, on Nov. 5, the ACLU says. The trial was originally set to start Nov. 1.
     The federal government has maintained that its massive spying program - brought to light through document leaks to the media by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden - is vital in its counterterrorism efforts.
     According to a memo by the Department of Justice, U.S. attorneys have been directed to "curtail or postpone" civil litigation without compromising safety. Criminal cases will continue without interruption, the DOJ said.