The Obama administration’s effort to save the government’s access to bulk records of phone calls for national security investigations is running into a new conservative court challenge.
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the tea party-linked Freedom Works Foundation filed a legal motion Friday with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking to stop the government from restarting the program run formerly by the National Security Agency. The previous program expired June 1, along with certain authorities under the Patriot Act.
President Barack Obama signed into law a new program that would have telecommunications companies store the data, instead of the NSA, for use in national security investigations. Government lawyers were preparing to restart the program by seeking an order from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
But the legal filing by Cuccinelli and Freedom Works throws at least a temporary wrench in those plans.
The court has given the government until June 12 to respond to the challenge. Until then, the government may not be able to restart the program, which collects metadata such as number called and date but not content, on all calls made from the U.S.
Cuccinelli and Freedom Works argue in part that “the (phone) metadata collection violates the Fourth Amendment because it constitutes an impermissible seizure and an unreasonable search.”
“The court should declare that the metadata collection is beyond the scope of Section 215 (of the Patriot Act) and violated the Fourth Amendment; enjoin (the government) from conducting or operating the metadata collection; order (the government) to destroy any and all telephone metadata that has been seized, stored, retained, and/or searched,” the filing said.
The Justice Department defended the program Friday.
“As we’ve repeatedly stated before, we believe the program is lawful,” spokesman Marc Raimondi said. “Moreover, in passing the Freedom Act Congress provided for a 180 day transition period for the government to continue the existing collection program until the new mechanism of obtaining call detail records is implemented. As we have previously indicated, consistent with this transition period we are seeking a new order from the FISC authorizing the continuation of this collection during the transition period.”