Just before the old year ended, a federal appeals court judge handed champions of the liberties Americans cherish a stinging defeat.
Federal District Court Judge William H. Pauley, in Washington, D.C., ruled the National Security Agency's mass collection of telephone data on tens of millions of Americans is constitutional. Pauley's decision reverses a lower court ruling against the NSA.
In fact, Pauley supported the key facet of the program that upsets many people. In his ruling, he wrote that collecting phone data on most Americans - the so-called "metadata" approach - is critical if the NSA is to spot and stop threats to national security.
His ruling would have astonished the nation's founders, who believed privacy should be among the basic rights of Americans.
Still, unless Pauley's ruling is appealed and overturned by the Supreme Court, it appears his decision is the law of the land.
That may leave it up to Congress, where many members agree with the NSA, to keep a close eye on the agency.
We certainly need the NSA to help protect us from terrorism. However, legislation establishing limits on how far federal snoops can look into our personal communications should be considered in light of the court ruling.