In the first bit of good news for the National Security Agency in some time, Judge William Pauley of the Federal District Court of Southern New York determined that the bulk collection of phone metadata is lawful. And in so doing, reiterated every conceivable argument put forward by NSA defenders.
Take Pauley's introduction to his opinion (which can be read in full at the bottom of this article, via Legal Times): "The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is." References to September 11th, while certainly not unwarranted, are probably the most common tool in defense of the program. Like others, Pauley suggests that if the metadata collection had been in place prior to the attacks, it "might have permitted the NSA" to provide details to the FBI about one attacker. This is the same argument used in June by then-FBI Director Robert Mueller. It has been used repeatedly since.
The metadata collection, which scoops up millions of records a day including what number is calling what number and for how long, was determined to be in likely violation of the Fourth Amendment by another judge just last week. (That judge, Richard Leon, was a Bush appointee. Pauley: Clinton.) Pauley rejects last week's assertion, indirectly, as well as the claim that the metadata provides any significant information about a user. The American Civil Liberties Union, which was a plaintiff in this case, argued that the metadata allows the "creation of a rich mosaic" about a person's life. Pauley disputes the claim given that the NSA isn't allowed to and doesn't query people's numbers indiscriminately. His source for that? In a footnote on page 41, he says it's "crystal clear": NSA head Keith Alexander said publicly that it isn't done.