ACLU, DOJ face off over phone surveillance

The ACLU and the U.S. government faced off in federal court Friday over the constitutionality of the government’s surveillance programs.

The surveillance program at the heart of the case is the government’s use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect of data about all U.S. phone calls.

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The program was first publicized by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in June. The next week, the ACLU filed its case.

The civil liberties group said Thursday that it would “argue that the mass call-tracking program violates Americans' constitutional rights of privacy, free speech, and association, and that it goes far beyond what Section 215 authorizes.”

Stuart Delery, an attorney for the Department of Justice, defended the value and legality of the mass phone data collection, saying it is “authorized by statute, and it's constitutional,” according to a Reuters report.

ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer challenged the authorization of the program.

"If you accept the government's argument, you are accepting a dramatic expansion in the government's investigative power," he said.

According to The Associated Press, the judge pressed Delery on what information Congress had about the phone data collection program when it reauthorized the Patriot Act.

"The record establishes that oversight committees of both houses were briefed," Delery said.

According to Reuters, Pauley did not indicate when he would rule on the case.

Last month, Patriot Act author Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the USA Freedom Act which would end the bulk collection phone records and increase the transparency of government surveillance programs.

ACLU v. Clapper is being being argued in front of Judge William Pauley at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.