Civil rights groups took the first step Thursday in appealing a finding by a federal judge in New York City that the National Security Agency's collection of Americans' phone records is legal.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a one-page notice of appeal in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We believe that the NSA's call-tracking program violates both statutory law and the constitution, and we look forward to making our case in the appeals court," ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.
In a written decision last week, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III concluded the program was a necessary extension of steps taken after the Sept. 11 attacks. He said the program lets the government connect fragmented and fleeting communications and "represents the government's counterpunch" to the al-Qaida terror network's use of technology to operate decentralized and plot international attacks remotely.
The ruling is at odds with an earlier decision last month by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., granting a preliminary injunction against the collection of phone records of two men who had challenged the program and saying the program likely violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable search. The judge stayed the effect of his ruling, pending a government appeal.
Some believe the conflict will eventually be settled by the Supreme Court. The chances that the nation's top court will address the issue increase if the appeals courts reach differing opinions or if the current use of the program is declared illegal.