December 17, 2013
Phone Snooping By The National Security Agency Ruled Unconstitutional
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
On Monday, a Federal District Court judge ruled the National Security Agency (NSA) program that has been systemically keeping records on the phone calls of nearly all Americans is unconstitutional. US District Judge Richard J. Leon, who was appointed to the federal district court in Washington by President George W. Bush, struck down the NSA’s exposed policy of collecting the dialing records of all phone calls in the country.
Leon, who immediately stayed Monday’s ruling to give the government time to appeal, ruled in favor of two Americans who challenged the program and wanted their data removed from NSA records. The judge further noted that the mass data collection did appear to violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches.
As a result of the stay, his ruling will have no immediate impact in stopping any ongoing mass data-collection efforts by the NSA or other agencies. However, this ruling marks the government’s first full-on courtroom defeat since former NSA analyst Edward Snowden revealed the program earlier this year.
Moreover, the ruling broke new legal ground by deciding that today’s computerized gathering of all dialing records represents a new threat to privacy that had not been fully recognized in the past.
“I am not convinced at this point in the litigation that the NSA’s database has ever truly served the purpose of rapidly identifying terrorists in time-sensitive investigations,” he wrote in his decision as reported by Pete Williams of NBC News, “and so I am certainly not convinced that the removal of two individuals from the database will ‘degrade’ the program in any meaningful sense.
“I will leave it to other judges to decide how to handle any future litigation in their courts,” he added.
The NSA did not have immediate comment following the ruling by Leon.
Edward Snowden released his own comments following the ruling. He contacted the media through journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was the reported recipient of leaked documents from Snowden and the first to write an article about the then-secret bulk data collection program.
“I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.'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 said as reported by the New York Times. “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.”
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had secretly approved the NSA program after only hearing arguments from the Justice Department. It has maintained that the 1979 decision is a controlling precedent and that this shields the program from Fourth Amendment review.
However, Leon, in his ruling, said the scope of the NSA program and the way people use phones today distinguishes the NSA data collection from the collection methods in that particular case.
“Put simply, people in 2013 have an entirely different relationship with phones than they did 34 years ago,” he wrote according to the New York Times. “Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic — a vibrant and constantly updating picture of the person’s life.”