MANHATTAN (CN) – The federal government wants more time to defend its massive domestic surveillance program against the ACLU’s claims that it is an unconstitutional “dragnet” on the phone records of every American.
A brief opposing the ACLU’s demands for a preliminary injunction was due Thursday, but the government said in a letter that night to U.S. District Judge William Pauley III that it needed more time.
Acknowledging that its request came at the “last minute,” the government said it had already obtained the “plaintiffs’ gracious consent.” Thursday had also been the deadline for the ACLU to oppose a motion to dismiss. The government persuaded the ACLU to delay its filing because “fairness will best be served by keeping their respective submissions simultaneous.”
“We anticipated making a timely filing this evening until, at approximately 7 p.m., we were made aware of one factual issue that needs to be explored before we will be in a position to finalize our papers, including supporting declarations,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jones wrote.
His office declined when pressed by Courthouse News to further explain what prompted the last-minute delay. Its defense of the spying has been unwavering, however, even in the face of unsealed rulings from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that blast the surveillance for its “flagrant violation” of privacy and the U.S. Constitution.
The government wants until Oct. 1 to file, with reply papers then due on Oct. 15.
It is unclear whether any delay would affect the trial scheduled for Nov. 1. The ACLU had wanted the injunction in advance of that date, stopping the National Security Agency’s mass phone call-tracking program and quarantining its data.
The NSA’s actions were revealed in May by Edward Snowden, who leaked to The Guardian and The Washington Post a secret court order that forced Verizon to “turn over, every day, metadata about the calls made by each of its subscribers over a three-month period ending on July 19, 2013.”
This prompted the ACLU to file suit in June, calling the “dragnet” surveillance unconstitutional. It says the government collects information about every telephone call made by every American, including the time the call started and the length of each conversation.
The NSA then uses that data to create a “rich profile of every citizen as well as a comprehensive record of citizens’ associations with one another,” according to a 48-page memo of law supporting the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction.
Civil libertarians fear that the surveillance not only invades its privacy but “threatens to dissuade potential clients and others from contacting them, and compromises their ability to serve their clients’ interests and their institutional missions.”
In August, defendant James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, filed a 52-page motion to dismiss on the grounds that the Southern District of New York lacks jurisdiction to hear the case.
Clapper also claimed that the program defends the country from terrorism.
“National security investigations often have remarkable breadth, spanning long periods of time and multiple geographic regions to identify terrorist groups, their members, intended targets and means of attack, many of which are often unknown to the intelligence community at the offset,” the government wrote in its memorandum of law in support of motion to dismiss the complaint.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act expanded the government’s power to track tangible things upon showing reasonable grounds to believe they are relevant to an authorized investigation.
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