DOJ Will Appeal Judge's Ruling Against NSA Phone Program

The decision of the D.C. judge conflicts with a ruling from a New York judge in a separate case

The U.S. Department of Justice will appeal a district judge's opinion saying a phone records collection program at the National Security Agency likely violates the U.S. Constitution.

The DOJ on Friday filed an appeal of Judge Richard Leon's Dec. 16 ruling in Klayman v. Obama. Leon, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled then that the NSA's mass collection of U.S. phone records likely violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Leon wrote that James Madison, author of the U.S. Constitution, would be "aghast" at the scope of the NSA program.

The DOJ, on behalf of President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and NSA Director General Keith Alexander, appealed Leon's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The DOJ has defended the phone records program, saying judges on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have approved the program on multiple occasions.

The program is necessary to help the U.S. defend itself against terrorism, U.S. officials have said. Critics have questioned whether U.S. officials are inflating the numbers of terrorism plots the program has helped stop.

The DOJ's decision to appeal the case came a day after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a notice of appeal in its separate lawsuit against the NSA's phone records program. Last week, Judge William Pauley III of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the NSA's phone records program is legal and threw out the ACLU challenge.

With a third court challenge to the NSA phone records program in a California court, the program may eventually come before the U.S. Supreme Court. If two appeals courts' decisions on the legality of the program conflict, that would set up a case for the highest court.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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