Federal Judge Rules Against NSA Phone Data Mining
Today's ruling may lead to the U.S. Supreme Court eventually taking up the case.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled today that the NSA surveillance practice of collecting bulk phone metadata likely violates the Constitution and ordered that phone records collected on the two plaintiffs who brought the original suit to be destroyed.
"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," wrote Judge Leon. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."
The 68-page ruling is the first of many complaints currently being lodged in federal courts across the country. While today's ruling only orders that records of the plaintiffs are destroyed and NSA phone metadata collection specific to the plaintiffs be halted, it is not a blanket ruling on the NSA program as a whole. Further, Leon said he will not order the enforcement of his ruling so as to provide the government adequate time to file an appeal -- something that is likely to take place in the next six months.
After leaked documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden alleged that the NSA collected and stored metadata on both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens, the surveillance agency said it had carried out the practice with secret court approval. Today's ruling also comes a day after the NSA took their argument on the merits of surveillance to the public during a 60 Minutes interview.
When asked if the NSA was collecting phone metadata, General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, said that while the federal agency does collect phone records of more than 300 million Americans, it does not actively monitor calls. "There's no reason that we would listen to the phone calls of Americans," said Alexander. "There's no intelligence value in that."
While the U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing a separate petition on the constitutionality of NSA's metadata collection last month, today's ruling could be the first step in eventually bringing the matter before the high court.
In a comment made to The New York Times, Snowden said he applauded today's ruling. "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," said Snowden. "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."