In massive blow to NSA, judge says phone spying likely unconstitutional

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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A U.S. District Court judge released an early decision Monday saying the National Security Agency’s bulk spying on almost all phone calls including U.S. parties is likely a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Judge Richard Leon released a preliminary injunction forbidding the signals intelligence agency from collecting any cellphone metadata from the Verizon accounts of conservative activist Larry Klayman and one of his legal clients.

The order was left open for appeal, but it will likely be precedent-setting.

Leon’s injunction said that NSA programs like PRISM, which collect massive amounts of consumer metadata, could be considered violations against the unreasonable searches and seizures prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

“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 said in the injunction.

The judge went on to say that the agency has failed to prove its favorite defense of the programs — that they have prevented terrorist attacks.

“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,” Leon said. “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.”

Similar cases are pending in multiple federal courts, but Leon’s ruling is the first to seemingly contradict multiple re-authorizations of NSA domestic data collection programs by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the PATRIOT Act.

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