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Court Rules NSA Doesn’t Have To Divulge Records

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

NSA is under no obligation to confirm or deny whether it has collected phone records from specific individuals, a federal judge has ruled in Washington D.C. The ruling brings an end to Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI) efforts to force the NSA to hand over emails and text messages sent by Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) senior executives. It is worth noting that CEI has been battling to get access to the messages sent by EPA’s former and current chief (Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy) for last few years.

The EPA has handed over thousands of messages to the CEI but it has refused to hand over others saying that it doesn’t have them. After CEI learned of NSA’s mass surveillance programs, they approached the intelligence agency to release the said records. CEI officials believed that since the NSA had admitted to collecting metadata from Verizon, they must have collected details about Ms. Jackson’s email account as well as records of messages and phone calls routed through Ms. McCarthy’s phone (both were Verizon subscribers). When NSA mentioned that it could neither confirm nor deny the presence of such records, CEI filed a case against the intelligence agency in order to try to get access to them.

Judge James A. Boasberg, who presided over the case and delivered the verdict in a 24-page ruling, declined CEI’s request by saying that due to the potential impact of handing over of surveillance data on the national security, the court would not force the intelligence agency to reveal the information. The judge also admonished the CEI for going on a “fishing expedition” and said that NSA never admitted to snooping upon Ms. Jackson’s or Ms. McCarthy’s records nor did it acknowledge collecting text or email data from Verizon customers. The judge added that he is not going to force the intelligence agency to admit whether it has collected Ms. Jackson’s or Ms. McCarthy’s records and the NSA was well within its rights to confirm or deny the existence of records collected from specific individuals.

The ruling serves as a stark reminder for the researchers who believed that they could get access to NSA’s treasure trove of information simply by filing a case against the agency. Judge Boasberg said that unless the litigants were able to prove that the agency had collected data from specific individuals, the NSA is not bound to hand over any data to them and it doesn’t even have to comply with requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.

The ruling is also a setback for privacy advocates and civil liberty groups. Judging by this verdict, activists won’t be able to force the NSA to hand over any data to them unless they can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the agency collected it in the first place. While everyone is aware that NSA snoops on phone calls and other forms of communication, it seems that no one can force the agency to part with the data. In the name of national security, the intelligence agencies are allowed to do whatever they want but isn’t it strange that people can’t get access to that data even when the situation demands it?

February 17, 2015

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