During an open court session on Friday, Department of Justice attorney Stuart Delery said ordinary Americans are not in a position to challenge the collection of their phone records.
Citing a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, he said US citizens have no rational expectation of privacy for their phone records, and that only phone companies can protest their collection.
He also claimed that the NSA uses its surveillance programs only for counter-terrorism investigation, adding the data helps the feds “find connections between known and unknown terrorists”.
Delery also asked US District Court Judge William H. Pauley to defer to “national security experts” and refuse to grant an injunction against the NSA’s spying programs.
Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “If you accept the government’s theory here, you are creating a dramatic expansion of the government’s investigative power.”
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the NSA in June, a few days after whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed the agency’s massive surveillance programs.
During the court session, the ACLU called for an end to the government’s spying activities due to the violation of constitutional rights.
The rights group told Pauley that the agency breached the first and fourth amendments and exceeded the authority Congress gave to the government through the Patriot Act.
“This kind of dragnet surveillance is precisely what the fourth amendment was meant to prohibit,” Jaffer stated.
“The constitution does not permit the NSA to place hundreds of millions of innocent people under permanent surveillance because of the possibility that information about some tiny subset of them will become useful to an investigation in the future,” he added.