|The NSA headquarters are pictured. | AP Photo|
Judge: NSA phone program likely unconstitutional
The ruling is the first significant legal setback for the NSA’s surveillance program.
By JOSH GERSTEIN | 12/16/13 1:36 PM EST
A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency program which collects information on nearly all telephone calls made to, from or within the United States is likely to be unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found that the program appears to run afoul of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. He also said the Justice Department had failed to demonstrate that collecting the so-called metadata had helped to head off terrorist attacks.
Acting on a lawsuit brought by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman, Leon issued a preliminary injunction barring the NSA from collecting metadata pertaining to the Verizon accounts of Klayman and one of his clients. However, the judge stayed the order to allow for an appeal.
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“Plaintiffs have a very significant expectation of privacy in an aggregated collection of their telephone metadata covering the last five years, and the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program significantly intrudes on that expectation,” wrote Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “I have significant doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.”
“I cannot 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,” Leon added.
Leon’s ruling is the first significant legal setback for the NSA’s surveillance program since it was disclosed in June in news stories based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The metadata program has been approved repeatedly by numerous judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and at least one judge sitting in a criminal case.
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Similar lawsuits challenging the program are pending in at least three other federal courts around the country.