World News

US Likely to Appeal Surveillance Ruling

(writethru adding Turner and Pozen audio)

The U.S. government is expected to appeal a judge's ruling that the National Security Agency's secret collection of telephone records from millions of Americans is likely unconstitutional.

The decision has triggered new conjecture about the legality of U.S. surveillance. Former national security contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked a vast trove of details about the U.S. spying before fleeing to asylum in Russia, praised the ruling, but two national security legal experts told VOA Tuesday that courts could ultimately uphold the government surveillance.

Robert Turner of the University of Virginia's Center for National Security Law said that a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the collection of telephone data is still relevant even though cell phones had not been invented at the time, nor their widespread usage throughout the world even imagined.

He compared the government's limited collection of telephone records -- the numbers called, and the length and date of them, but not the content -- to the much more intrusive searches of travelers at airports. Those searches have been ruled legal, and not a violation of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of illegal searches of individuals.

"Every court to consider the issue has said that these are lawful searches....They are lawful because in special needs situations, they balance the government's interests against the individual's interests. The courts have consistently ruled that the possibility that an airplane might be destroyed or hijacked outweighs the privacy interests to not be searched of the individuals."

National security expert David Pozen of the Columbia University law school in New York also said Monday's ruling by Judge Richard Leon may not be upheld by a higher court, but could influence other legal cases and lawmakers' consideration of the scope of U.S. surveillance.

"It kind of further legitimated the notion that the NSA was up to something deeply wrong, and I think may - before the courts ultimately decide on the legality of the program - may actually just help spur Congress to revise the program."

In his ruling, Judge Leon said he "cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion" of peoples' privacy than the government's collection of such information without prior judicial approval. In ruling on a court challenge to the surveillance, Leon said the spying "surely" infringes on the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against illegal searches.

Leon did not immediately enforce his ruling, giving the government a chance to appeal the decision to a higher court.

U.S. President Barack Obama is meeting Tuesday with the heads of leading technology companies, who have voiced concern about the scope of U.S. surveillance programs.

The White House said Mr. Obama is talking with the chiefs of such companies as Google, Yahoo, Apple, and AT&T to discuss privacy concerns as well as ways to improve the government's web site.

Snowden leaked information about the telephone data collection earlier this year. It was among the first disclosures in the wave of leaks from the 1.7 million documents that the NSA says Snowden stole before fleeing first to Hong Kong and then to Russia.

One NSA official assessing the damage of the Snowden leaks, Rick Ledgett, told the 60 Minutes TV news program Sunday that Snowden made off with "the keys to the kingdom."

U.S. officials have sought Snowden's extradition to stand trial on espionage charges, but Russia has refused.

At the White House Monday, a spokesman said Snowden should be returned to the United States as soon as possible to stand trial on charges of leaking the classified information.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs