Judges Hear Arguments Over NSA Snooping

A federal appeals court heard arguments Monday in an Idaho woman's challenge to the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records -- the third time in recent months that appeals courts around the country have considered the controversial counterterrorism program.

Calling herself an ordinary American upset about the program, nurse Anna J. Smith sued the government last year, arguing the agency's collection of call records violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Winmill in Boise, Idaho, disagreed -- but nevertheless noted that the case raised privacy questions that could wind up before the Supreme Court.

"We're dealing with a dragnet of call records," Smith's attorney and husband, Peter Smith, told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday. "Anna's not a criminal defendant. She's not a suspect in any crime. And yet her records are being swept up."

The government has acknowledged that under a USA Patriot Act provision, and with authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, it collects data from telecommunications companies showing the time and length of calls, along with numbers dialed. With a further showing to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, investigators can then run queries of that data in an effort to uncover links involving suspected terrorists.

The Justice Department called it an "important government anti-terrorism program" in its briefing to the 9th Circuit.

"It is true that, under the program, the government acquires a large volume of business records containing telephony metadata," department lawyers wrote. "But consistent with the governing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders authorizing the program, that information is used and analyzed only under highly restricted circumstances."

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard arguments in an appeal of a judge's opinion that upheld the program's legality, while the...

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