Judges Hear Arguments Over NSA Surveillance

Idaho nurse sues U.S. government, arguing that the National Security Agency’s sweep of phone records violates Fourth Amendment rights.

By Gene Johnson
Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — A federal appeals court heard arguments in an Idaho woman’s challenge to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records — the third time in recent months that appeals courts around the country have considered the controversial counterterrorism program.

Idaho real estate attorney Peter Smith, left, and his wife, nurse Anna J. Smith, pose for a photo outside the federal appeals court building Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in downtown Seattle. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday in Anna Smith?s case challenging the National Security Agency?s bulk collection of Americans? phone records; Peter Smith argued the case on her behalf. (AP Photo/Gene Johnson)
Idaho real estate attorney Peter Smith, left, and his wife, nurse Anna J. Smith, pose for a photo outside the federal appeals court building Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, in downtown Seattle. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday in Anna Smith?s case challenging the National Security Agency?s bulk collection of Americans? phone records; Peter Smith argued the case on her behalf. (AP Photo/Gene Johnson)

Calling herself an ordinary American upset about the program, nurse Anna J. Smith sued the government last year, arguing the agency’s collection of call records violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Winmill in Boise, Idaho, disagreed — but nevertheless noted that the case raised privacy questions that could wind up before the Supreme Court.

“We’re dealing with a dragnet of call records,” Smith’s attorney and husband, Peter Smith, told a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday. “Anna’s not a criminal defendant. She’s not a suspect in any crime. And yet her records are being swept up.”

The government has acknowledged that under a USA Patriot Act provision, and with authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, it collects data from telecommunications companies showing the time and length of calls, along with numbers dialed. With a further showing to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, investigators can then run queries of that data in an effort to uncover links involving suspected terrorists.