Privacy Advisor

Federal Courts at Loggerheads in NSA Surveillance Cases; Snowden Disclosures to Continue in 2014

January 2, 2014

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

The tail end of 2013 brought with it continued news and reaction to the disclosures of the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs by former contractor Edward Snowden. Perhaps most significantly, a federal judge on Friday, December 27 ruled the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata on phone calls was legal. The ruling came less than two weeks after another federal judge came to virtually the opposite conclusion. George Washington University Law School Prof. Orin S. Kerr said last Friday’s ruling by William H. Pauley III “is the exact opposite of Judge Leon’s in every way, substantively and rhetorically … It’s matter and antimatter.” Each case will now face appeal. If the split continues, the Supreme Court may have to get involved, and according to The Hill, Snowden’s lawyer is urging the Supreme Court to do so. Both rulings also parallel a set of recommendations for oversight of the NSA by a surveillance review panel selected by President Barack Obama. According to a tweet from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the NSA review panelists will testify before the Senate on January 14.

In case you missed it, here are a number of related stories and developments:

  • In a case unrelated to the NSA disclosures but concerning another Fourth Amendment question—that is, “Do we have an expectation of privacy in our hotel guest records?”—the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled no to the question.
  • Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who has worked closely with Snowden to publish and distribute many of the disclosures, said there “are a lot more stories to come, a lot more documents that will be covered.” Snowden gave a Christmas message that was broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4.

  • The Editorial Board of The New York Times opined that Snowden should be considered a whistleblower and that “he has done his country a great service.”
  • Two of the Internet’s original architects, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, discussed the future of the Internet, in light of the Snowden disclosures, in a Q&A.
  • According to survey results reported in The Washington Post, respondents were more distrustful of Facebook and Google than they were of the NSA and the Internal Revenue Service.
  • At the Chaos Communications Conference in Germany, security expert Jacob Appelbaum exhibited some of the NSA’s spy technology and said some of the agency’s capabilities “are even worse than your worst nightmares.” Appelbaum also spoke at the IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress last month in Brussels.
  • David Kravets, a columnist for Wired, questioned whether Obama’s phone-spying reforms might make matters worse for privacy.

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:
Federal Judge Rules NSA Phone Metadata Collection Program Likely Unconstitutional
Tech Biz Urging U.S. Lawmakers, Global Governments To Reform Surveillance Law
Where the FTC Has Been and Where It's Headed in 2014
White House's Wong Makes Case for Embedded Privacy Pros