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Secret Court’s Ruling on Phone Data Revealed

The top U.S. spy opened the door a sliver Friday on the mass collection of telephone records, acknowledging that national intelligence agencies had sought and been granted permission to vacuum up Americans' calling data for three more months.

In a statement released quietly on Friday (.pdf), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Director James Clapper had decided to declassify and disclose that the government made the request to the hush-hush Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved it earlier in the day.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley upheld the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records — what's called "telephony metadata" — in a controversial ruling in New York last week. The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit challenging the program, said Thursday that it would appeal Pauley's ruling.

Pauley's ruling came just 11 days after U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the program appeared to be unconstitutional in a ruling in Washington, D.C., that sided with two Americans who wanted their data removed from NSA records.

It's now up to appeals courts and, most likely, the U.S. Supreme Court to sort through the contradictory findings.

The intelligence statement said Friday that Clapper was officially disclosing the FISA process "in order to provide the public a more thorough and balanced understanding of the program," which has polarized Americans over how deeply the U.S. government should dig into their privacy to keep them safe.

While Clapper disclosed that the FISA court had issued the approval, the court's ruling itself wasn't made public.