The U.S. National Security Agency's mass collection of telephone records within the country is an unprecedented violation of privacy by the government, a lawyer challenging the surveillance program argued Tuesday.
A U.S. appeals court should hold up a lower court's preliminary injunction against the phone records program as a way to stop U.S. residents from rising up against the government, conservative activist and lawyer Larry Klayman argued.
U.S. residents may resort to mass protests if judges don't rule against the program, Klayman said. "This is the most outrageous abuse of power in our history," he told the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. "The American people look to you to protect them from a tyranny of the government."
The NSA could create detailed dossiers about a target based on the telephone records, including who the suspect called and received calls from and the call routing information, Klayman said. The result is an "excessive" violation of privacy, he said.
The appeals court's three-judge panel asked pointed questions of Klayman and of lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for National Security Studies, two groups that argued against the NSA program. Judge Stephen Williams questioned, as did a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice did, whether Klayman and other plaintiffs in the case had their privacy violated.
"Where's the data in the record suggesting your calls have been examined?" Williams asked Klayman. "What is the phenomenon that you allude to?"
DOJ lawyer Thomas Byron attacked Klayman's case on several fronts. Klayman and other plaintiffs don't have standing to challenge the program because they have no proof their call records have been collected or analyzed, Byron said.
While Klayman is a customer of Verizon Wireless, the only phone records collection order that's been made public covers customers of Verizon Business Services, he said. Critics of the program say Byron's argument is a paradox -- the DOJ says people can't challenge the program in court when they have no proof of being targeted, but the government has released little information about the scope of the program.
Byron downplayed Klayman's concerns, saying the NSA program, exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in mid-2013, isn't a privacy violation because a surveillance court limits how the agency can use that data.
U.S. telephone customers can't reasonably expect that call records held by telephone carriers are private, Byron said. He called on the appeals court to overturn U.S. district court Judge Richard Leon's December 2013 injunction against the program, which he stayed pending appeals court review.
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