As the National Security Agency's program collecting Americans' phone records is set to expire this month, a U.S. federal judge has issued a ruling calling on the NSA to cease its bulk collection of phone records.
Judge Richard Leon had ruled in December 2013 that the NSA's bulk telephony metadata program violates Americans' privacy rights. At the time, he temporarily suspended the judgment pending appeal but said he would not do so again because “the loss of constitutional freedoms for even one day is a significant harm”.In June, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act. Under the legislation, the NSA's systematic collection of telephone records will cease, and as of Nov. 29, the NSA will require a court order to search phone records Monday's ruling appears to be intended to set legal precedent. “With the government's authority to operate the bulk telephony metadata program quickly coming to an end, this case is perhaps the last chapter in the judiciary's evaluation of this particular program's compatibility with the Constitution,” he wrote in the decision. “It will not, however, be the last chapter in the ongoing struggle to balance privacy rights and national security interests under our Constitution in an age of evolving technological wizardry.”
He stated the collection of phone records “likely violates the Constitution” and questioned the necessity of Congress' decision to grant the NSA a 180-day transition period. “To date,” Leon wrote, “the Government has failed to identify any concrete consequences that would likely result from this so-called ‘intelligence gap.'”
The Justice Department asked on Monday to stay the decision, saying the technical challenge of blocking the collection of one person's phone records would make it necessary to end the program. Judge Leon declined that request.