Judge: NSA phone metadata surveillance likely unconstitutional

Judge: NSA phone metadata surveillance likely unconstitutional

Summary: But U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon's preliminary injunction does not require the NSA to stop its data collection.


Month after month there has been one revelation after another about how the National Security Agency (NSA) collects information from people both inside and outside the US. Now, a judge has finally paid attention to these activities and ruled that the NSA can't simply run willy-nilly over US citizens' privacy rights.

NSA Global Survelllance

Conservative legal activist and founder of Judicial Watch Larry Klayman filed a lawsuit against the US government earlier in 2013 alleging that NSA’s massive telephone surveillance program violates the "reasonable expectation of privacy, free speech and association, right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and due process rights." US District Court Judge Richard Leon largely agreed and ruled that the NSA metadata collection program appears to violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Leon, a George W. Bush appointee to the US District Court of the District of Columbia, wrote that he could not imagine a more "'indiscriminate' and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval."

General Keith Alexander, the NSA's director, recently defended this bulk gathering of phone call metadata. He told the US Senate that "There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots."

Be that at it may, Leon believes it's also unconstitutional. Even with his strong opinion that the NSA is in the wrong for collecting this data, Leon's preliminary injunction does not require the NSA to stop its data collection.

Instead, his preliminary injunction, which specifically deals with the NSA from collecting metadata pertaining to the Verizon accounts of Klayman and one of his clients, Charles Strange, the father of a deceased Navy SEAL, has been stayed. This gives the government a chance to appeal his injunction before he rules that the NSA must stop gathering metadata without a warrant.

This is believed to be the first significant judicial setback for the NSA’s surveillance program since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden started leaking NSA governments. Before that, the NSA's metadata program had been approved multiple times by US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

For now, nothing has changed. The NSA is still free to gather data on phone calls made in the US. This injunction serves notice that may not be the case for much longer.

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Topics: Security, Big Data, Government US, Privacy

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  • "the NSA can't simply run willy-nilly over US citizens' privacy rights"

    NSA to judge: Noted, collected, sorted and filed in the "person of interest" category.
    • Feral government

      "There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots."

      Amazing that this would be offered as a justification for disregarding the Bill of Rights, specifically imposed to inconvenience the government in order to preserve liberty.
      • What's the point then?

        Why collect data if the data is not useful? Either it is useful and they collect it or it is not and they wouldn't bother doing it. Draw your own conclusions.
    • What do you think?

      Think he'll get moved into retirement, replaced of commit suicide because he suddenly became overly distraught during the holiday season?
  • It's about time

    Thanks, judge.
    none none
  • Of course it's unconstitutional

    It's about time someone acknowledges it.
    • At least get your facts straight

      The Supreme Court ruled (Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 1979) that phone metadata, specifically the originating and dialed number, is not a search within the context of the fourth amendment since the caller voluntarily gives that information up when he makes the call.

      Now whether additional metadata (e.g. the nearest cell tower from which the call is made) is constitutionally protected is a question that, IMO, needs to be addressed by the SCUSA.
      • That would be the US Supreme Court's opinion

        Obviously, there are differing ones, and the Justices probably were not unanimous at the time. Now I'll have to look for the report on the case to read the opinion of the court and any dissenting ones (surely there was one).

        In the end, US Supreme Court decisions on constitutional cases are opinions regarding the Constitution, not the Constitution itself or amendments thereto. We hope they're right, and they usually are (IMHO), but it's not guaranteed, and the Court can change its mind.
        John L. Ries
        • Let's not forget this one

          National Security Agency – The only part of the government that really listens to what you have to say.
      • According to those statements

        The NSA could put gps on my car, because I'm using the state and federal Highway system.
        • That is an interesting point

          Nobody seriously objects to the police tailing suspicious vehicles, but it strikes me that surreptitiously installing a GPS would constitute burglary if a private investigator did it, and therefore it should be illegal for the police to do it without a warrant.
          John L. Ries
      • Voluntarily gives it up to who?

        The carriers may need to have that data to run the system (and there should definitely be a time limit on how long they can keep it). but that doesn't mean I want the government to have access to it. A business can't throw me in jail on suspicion of having done something wrong, the government can. Whether I've done anything wrong or not. I didn't voluntarily provide that information, knowing that the NSA was going to be able to rummage through it.

        That's why the Fourth Amendment was created. to restrict the actions of the *government*.
  • We need a law that says only use it against terrorists

    If the feds need this stuff to stop terrorists then do that. Everything else they find should be destroyed no matter what it is. Like they never saw it. This whole NSA story is definitely illegal. They even put their own group of judges together to make it look legitimate.
    • How do you decide who is a terrorist?

      That has been the biggest question since 9/11. Normally, it's the job of courts to decide who is and is not a criminal, not presidents, bureaucrats, or generals.

      BTW: The FISA court was established by Congress and its members are appointed by the Chief Justice from among serving US District Court judges for a term of years who continue to perform their regular judicial duties while serving on the FISA court (and per the US Constitution, all federal judges serve life terms) . It was not set up by the NSA or any other spook agency and is independent of them as far as I can tell.
      John L. Ries
      • I recommend Linux...

        ... and Firefox....or Tor....and avoiding Microsoft, Google and Apple ecosystems.
        • You use Linux to decide who's a terrorist?

          Or were you intending to respond to someone else's comment?
          John L. Ries
      • who is a terrorist?

        The answer is pretty obvous. It's who ever the person with the powere to label someone as such wants to make a terrorist.
        • That's why it should be the courts that decide...

          ...not the Administration.
          John L. Ries
    • naive

      The NSA would love that. They wouldn't have to change what they are doing now. They would just lable anyone they want a terrorist. Our founding fathers were not stupid. They knew that government needs to be kept in deep check to keep them on the straight and narrow. Otherwise we end up where we are today.
  • Don't They Already Have a Blanket Warrent?

    Doesn't the FICS (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) give them a blanket warrant?
    If so, this ruling is moot.