A federal judge gave the stamp of approval Tuesday to the government’s continued collection of bulk phone and email data on foreign nationals who live outside the nation — even if that surveillance leads to tapping into the private information of U.S. citizens living on American soil.
The ruling represents the first challenge that’s been made in court to the federal government’s bulk data-collection program that targets non-U.S. citizens who live outside the nation, The Associated Press reported.
It stemmed from a case brought by Mohamed Mohamud, a U.S. citizen who was living in Oregon when he was arrested and convicted of terrorism-related charges.
He was found guilty of planning to blow up a site during the Portland Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in 2010 — a plot that came to light while federal authorities were investigating a different terror-tied case via data collection but stumbled on Mohamud’s emails to two terror suspects.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows feds to use information that’s derived incidentally, during the course of collecting data on targeted individuals living outside the United States, for security purposes.
But his attorneys tried to argue that Mohamud’s constitutional rights were infringed when the government never notified him that he was being prosecuted because of information that was derived during a warrantless data collection.
U.S. District Court Judge Garr King said that didn’t matter, however, and “a new trial would put the defendant in the same position he would have been in if the government notified him of the [surveillance] at the start of the case. Dismissal is not warranted here,” AP reported.
Privacy groups had watched the case closely — and with alarm.
“[Mohamud] is at such a significant disadvantage,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Hanni Fakhoury, in the AP report. “He doesn’t even have the evidence to make the challenge. That’s the whole problem in this whole regime of after-the-fact [informing of suspects].”