After two cases regarding the legality of the National Security Agency’s phone record collection program resulted in opposite rulings, President Obama spoke up about this issue on Friday, Jan. 17.
The National Security Agency’s (NSA) program did not collect the actual recordings of phone calls, but rather phone numbers dialed and the duration of the calls. The NSA claims that its goal for the program was to be able to track any possible terrorist action occurring in the country.
The question of the program’s legality was brought to two different district courts. The Washington, DC District Court ruled that the program was unconstitutional, while the other case in New York’s second Circuit Court deemed that it was legal. These different rulings proved that the judges of both cases interpreted the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, concerning unreasonable searches and seizures, differently than the other.
Dr. Meghan Leonard, assistant professor in the politics and government department, explained that these federal district judges do not necessarily have the power to stop the program
“Congress could change the program, or the Supreme Court will decide,” Leonard said.
During his speech on Friday, the president called for placing specific limits on the program that would force the government to acquire a court order for each phone number’s record that it would like to access.
He also announced that the program would stop recording the phone calls of dozens of other foreign government leaders who the U.S. considers to be allies.
Finally, security analysts may only collect phone calls that are two connections away from a number associated with a terrorist organization, as opposed to the previous three connections.
Yet, despite the President’s announced changes, Dr. Michael Gizzi, an associate professor in the criminal justice department, believes that the case will still reach the Supreme Court for a final decision.
“Ultimately, I think the Court will eventually take on the issue — maybe not this term — but in the next year or two. I do not see the president’s proposed changes from [Friday] impacting that,” Gizzi said.
Gizzi believes that the Supreme Court seems to shy away from cases involving technology, because the Justices may be out of touch with these issues. However, the Court has taken on other Fourth Amendment privacy issues involving surveillance, which may mean they will tackle this one in an upcoming term.
It appears that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum have mixed feelings about the legality of the program.
“I think there is a divide in public opinion over the surveillance issues. And that divide crosses both parties in Congress,” he said.
People on both sides believe that the NSA abused their power by invading the public’s privacy; however, there are also people from both sides that believe that the NSA has kept us safe, and safety comes before privacy.
Only time will be able to tell what will happen with the program, and this will likely occur when the Supreme Court addresses the matter in the coming year or two.