The ACLU has asked a US appeals court to halt the NSA from continuing to collect millions of Americans’ phone records prior to its expiration in November:
Under the USA Freedom Act, which Congress passed in June, new privacy provisions take effect on Nov. 29 that will end the bulk collection, first disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.
The program collects “metadata” such as the number dialed and the duration of calls but does not include their content.
Arguments on Wednesday centered on whether the program may continue operating between now and November.
Henry Whitaker, a lawyer for the Obama administration, told the three-judge panel that Congress clearly intended the collection to continue while the NSA transitions to the new system.
But Alex Abdo, an ACLU lawyer, said the statute explicitly extended the same Patriot Act provisions that the court concluded do not permit bulk collection.
The judges expressed concern that, as Circuit Judge Robert Sack put it, halting the program would “short-circuit” a process already under way.
Saying the ACLU had won a “historic achievement,” Sack asked, “Why don’t you declare victory and withdraw?”
Abdo said the ongoing collection harmed the ACLU’s ability to confer with clients, such as whistleblowers, without worrying about whether the communications would be swept up by the NSA.