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NSA actions debated in Manhattan court

Civil liberties lawyers urged a judge to halt a government "dragnet" during arguments on the legality of the National Security Agency's collection of phone-call data in Manhattan federal court Friday.

"Never before has the government attempted a dragnet collection of records on this scale," ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer told U.S. District Judge William Pauley. "It places in the government's hands a vast amount of information about every single American."

But Justice Department lawyer Stuart Delery told Pauley the NSA collection was a key tool for connecting the dots in terrorism investigations, and didn't violate rights because people have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" in data about who they call.

"People assume the phone company is recording the numbers that are dialed and the duration of calls," he said.

The program to collect and store data on virtually every phone call was disclosed this year by NSA worker Edward Snowden. The ACLU wants Pauley to enjoin the program, and the government wants him to dismiss the lawsuit.

The judge questioned both sides, but appeared skeptical of government claims that the phone collection program had been ratified by Congress, noting that several legislators had submitted declarations said they knew nothing about it.

Pauley reserved decision and said he would issue a ruling at a later date.

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