The secretive US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court yesterday renewed the authority of US intelligence agencies to collect data on millions of Americans' telephone calls in a programme that had sparked a legal battle over privacy rights.
In a news release, the office of the director of national intelligence James Clapper said, the court allowed the intelligence community to collect metadata from phone companies.
Though there were no details about the ruling, Reuters quoted a US official as saying the authority was renewed for three months, and that it applied to the entire metadata collection program.
In the past the orders were sometimes issued to individual telephone companies, but according to the official, the latest order covered all companies from which metadata had been collected under recent previous court authorisations.
News about the National Security Agency tracking telephone calls of Americans by collecting metadata of who they contacted and when, among the main revelations by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden last year that triggered a public outcry over government spying.
Two US district judges delivered conflicting rulings on the legality and constitutionality of the security agency's bulk metadata collection.
According to Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the office of the director of national intelligence, such periodic requests were somewhat formulaic but required since the programme started in 2006, Associated Press reported.
Turner said in a statement that 15 judges on the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on 36 occasions over the past seven years had approved the NSA's collection of US phone records as lawful.
Also yesterday, government lawyers turned to US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block the decision of a federal judge that jeopardised the NSA phone records programme.
According to the opposing lawyer who spearheaded the effort leading to the ruling, he hoped to take the issue directly to the Supreme Court.
The justice department, in a one-page filing of notice of appeal asked the appeals court to overturn US district judge Richard Leon's ruling last month that the programme was quite likely unconstitutional.
According to Larry Klayman, who filed the class-action suit against President Barack Obama and top administration national security officials, he intended to petition the federal appeals court next week to send the case directly to the Supreme Court.
He added, the move was justified because the NSA case was a matter of great public importance.