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Supreme Court could weigh in on NSA case, justice says

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By Gabe LaMonica

A Supreme Court justice Thursday night suggested the legality of National Security Agency activities could be decided by the court.

Three days after Pulitzers were awarded to newspapers that revealed the NSA's surveillance activities, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg deflected a question about Edward Snowden, who leaked NSA data.

When asked, "Do you believe that Snowden is a whistleblower or a traitor?" Ginsburg, who was joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington that she could not say.

"It's also possible, is it not," she said, "that the question you raise could come before the court. And we are not at liberty to preview."

If Snowden is extradited to the United States and charged with federal crimes for his leaks, his case could come before the court.

In June of 2013, The Guardian and The Washington Post published reports that revealed the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. citizens' phone records and other clandestine surveillance activities. That sparked a firestorm concerning Fourth Amendment protections for U.S. citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures" and the issue of where that protection weighs in the balance between national security and personal privacy.

On Thursday, the two justices were asked whether The Post deserved the highest accolade in journalism, a gold medal for public service administered by Columbia University in New York City for nearly 100 years.

Scalia said he had "no idea" why The Post was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

In a Washingtonian's slight at a newspaper that's sometimes seen as liberal, Scalia said, "I don't read The Post."

"So I have no idea what they got the prize for," he said, prompting knowing laughter from the press club.

Ginsburg said that it's "a question that the journalists in this audience are much better equipped to answer than I am."

Also on Thursday, Snowden, who is in Russia, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about surveillance activities in his country. In an annual question-and-answer program broadcast on state television, Putin held court for nearly four hours.

"Does Russia intercept, store, analyze in any way the communications of individuals?" Snowden asked him in a phone call.

"We do not allow ourselves to do this. And, we will never allow this. We do not have the money or the means to do that," answered Putin. "The most important thing is we have a special service that's thankfully under strict state control."

In March of last year, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked a similar question of the director of national intelligence.

"Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" he asked James R. Clapper.

Clapper responded, "No, sir ... not wittingly." He later clarified his remarks.
   
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