Justice Dept. Lawyer on Phone Call Data: Americans Have No “Reasonable Expectation of Privacy”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Stuart Delery (photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

An official with the U.S. Department of Justice claims Americans have no privacy rights when it comes to their phone calls, according to testimony delivered in federal court.


In a case stemming from the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of phone call data from Verizon, Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery told the courtroom that those living in the U.S. have “no reasonable expectation” to privacy when it comes to the phone calls they make.


Delery made his remark while pointing out that because Americans go along with telecommunications companies keeping records of their calls, they have no basis to challenge the NSA’s large-scale collection of that data.


“People assume that phone companies are recording phone numbers and how long the call lasted,” he said. “We know that because all of us get the bills with those details.”


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) disagrees with the Justice Department’s position. Its deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, told the court that the NSA spying program is an “abuse of the government’s investigative power.”


“If they can collect this kind of information, they can collect all kinds of records as well,” Jaffer added.


ACLU attorney Alexander Abdo added, “The Fourth Amendment creates a private sphere that the government can't penetrate. Most Americans would be shocked that this information is being looked at by strangers.” He noted that the NSA’s spying program also allows the government to wiretap Americans’ phone calls and copy all mail that passes through the U.S. postal system.


Delery defended the NSA’s domestic surveillance by pointing out the work was authorized by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).


“The government does not listen to calls,” Delery stated, insisting the data collected is used “in good-faith investigations...to find connections between known and unknown terrorists.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Since When Are Your Phone Calls Private? Goverment Lawyer Asks (by Nick Divito, Courthouse News Service)

Questionnaire for Non-judicial Nominees (Senate Judiciary Committee) (pdf)


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