Since When Are Your Phone Calls Private?, Goverment Lawyer Asks
MANHATTAN (CN) - Since Americans expect their phone companies to keep records of their calls, they have no basis to challenge the National Security Agency's mass collection of that data, a lawyer for the government argued Friday.
Americans have "no reasonable expectation" to privacy when it comes to the telephone calls they make, Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery said at a packed hearing in federal court.
"People assume that phone companies are recording phone numbers and how long the call lasted," he said. "We know that because all of us get the bills with those details."
U.S. District Judge William Pauley III is presiding over the trial stemming from the revelation of a then-classified court order that compelled Verizon to turn over domestic phone records for millions of Americans.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked the document in June and has since received asylum from Russia.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the court that the dragnet spying program is an "abuse of the government's investigative power."
"If they can collect this kind of information, they can collect all kinds of records as well," Jaffer said.
ACLU attorney Alexander Abdo told the court that "the Fourth Amendment creates a private sphere that the government can't penetrate."
Keeping the NSA's surveillance program alive allows the government to wiretap calls or photocopy every piece of mail that moves through the United States Postal Service, he added.
"Most Americans would be shocked that this information is being looked at by strangers," Abdo said.
In his defense of the program, Assistant Attorney General Delery emphasized that it operates pursuant to orders from the once-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
All three branches of government gave the agency the green-light to continue collecting data, Delery added.
"The government does not listen to calls," and the data is used "in good-faith investigations ... to find connections between known and unknown terrorists," Delery said.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court refused to consider a challenge to the spying by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. No lower courts ruled on EPIC's case before it petitioned the justices for the writ of mandamus to vacate an order from the FISC.
The high court also trounced the ACLU's challenge to the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in February.