In the nation's capital today, a federal judge has ruled that the National Security Agency's program of bulk phone record collection violates the reasonable expectation of privacy guaranteed to Americans by the Constitution. The judge ordered the federal government to stop gathering call data on two plaintiffs, and to destroy all previously-collected records of their call histories.
The ruling by Judge Richard Leon (PDF Link), a US district judge in the District of Columbia, is stayed pending a likely appeal--which may take months. In his 68-page memorandum, Leon wrote that the NSA's vast collection of Americans' phone metadata constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
"Father of the Constitution" James Madison would be “aghast” at the NSA's actions if he were alive today, wrote Leon.
“The government does not cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack,” the judge wrote.
“Given the limited record before me at this point in the litigation – most notably, the utter lack of evidence that a terrorist attack has ever been prevented because searching the NSA database was faster than other investigative tactics – I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.”
“Because the government can use daily metadata collection to engage in ‘repetitive, surreptitious surveillance of a citizen’s private goings on,’ the NSA database ‘implicated the Fourth Amendment each time a government official monitors it,” Leon said.
"The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1970."
Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the N.S.A., had no immediate comment on the ruling by Judge Leon, a 2002 appointee of President George W. Bush. The ruling is the first successful legal challenge brought against the program since it was revealed in June after leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden. It was brought by several plaintiffs led by Larry Klayman, a conservative public-interest lawyer. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a similar lawsuit in the Southern District of New York.
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaks led to the controversy, issued a statement from his exile in Russia to journalist Glenn Greenwald. Snowden's statement was published by the New York Times and other outlets:
“I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts,” Snowden wrote. “Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
Read the judge's 68-page Memorandum Opinion [PDF Link].
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.