Compliance Management, Privacy

Federal judge rules NSA metadata collection is unconstitutional

A U.S. District Court Judge in Washington ruled that the National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of telephone records violates the privacy rights of Americans.

Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia, released a ruling in regards to lawsuits presented by public-interest lawyer Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, who are suing as customers of telecom companies, and argue that the agency's tactics violate their expectation of privacy.

According to the ruling, Judge Leon sides with the plaintiffs and has issued a preliminary injuction, which stops the NSA from further collecting anymore records belonging to the plaintiffs and would force the agency to destroy any it currently has relating to them.

The NSA's expansive surveillance program monitors phone call information, known as metadata, and requires phone providers, such as Verizon, to hand over call records belonging to its millions of subscribers, according to government documents leaked by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

While there has been much public uproar over the NSA's surveillance efforts, this marks the first successful legal dispute brought against the agency's tactics, even though the judge stayed his injunction, which allows the government time to appeal.

Based on the agency's metadata collection methods, and how Congress has “great latitude” in creating authoritative plots, Judge Leon believes that the NSA's actions “may not hang a cloak of secrecy over the Constitution. He believes the program, which he describes as “almost Orwellian,” violates the Constitution.

“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 and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

The ruling, say some commentators, vindicates Snowden, who revealed the details of the NSA's actions in collaboration with journalist Glenn Greenwald. From his exile in Russia, Snowden reached out today to Greenwald. His comments were reported in the New York Times:

“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 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.”

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