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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs