Editorial: Surveillance Goes on Trial

There was a lot that was ordinary about the hearing in Courtroom 20B of the Manhattan federal courthouse on Friday morning: a team of lawyers at the plaintiff’s table, spectators in the gallery. What was extraordinary was the defendant, the United States government, and the lawsuit it is facing over the National Security Agency’s seven-year-old, once top-secret phone-surveillance program, which until this week it never had to defend in open court.Until Edward Snowden, a disaffected N.S.A. contractor, came along and documented the stunning scope of the phone program — which vacuums up information about every call made in the United States every day for the purpose of identifying possible terror suspects — intelligence and law-enforcement officials were accustomed to operating in the friendlier confines of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

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