Judge: NSA phone metadata surveillance likely unconstitutional

But U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon's preliminary injunction does not require the NSA to stop its data collection.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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