Judge Rules NSA Phone Spying “Likely Unconstitutional,” Violates Fourth Amendment
The National Security Agency suffers another blow.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found Monday that the NSA's 7-year program that collected what is called metadata violated the 4th Amendment that protects against unreasonable search and seizure. While his opinion does NOT shut down the program, it reveals what the judge believes to be the outcome if the case goes to a higher court. Most experts believe it will end up in the Supreme Court soon.
It's being considered a serious legal setback for the agency. The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman. He won a preliminary injunction forbidding the NSA from collecting his Verizon account data, and for one of this clients.
There has been significant outrage since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked extensive information in June about widespread government surveillance programs.
Judge Leon said, according to Politico:
“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."
Supporters of the program from the NSA, as well as other judges, claimed a 1979 court ruling, Smith Vs. Maryland, justified the data gathering. That ruling said 'no search warrant was needed by police to install a device that recorded the numbers dialed on a particular phone.'
However, Judge Leon said that 30-plus-year-old precedent was completely outdated due to the vast improvements and changes in phone and cellphone technology. He said in his ruling:
“The ubiquity of phones has dramatically altered the quantity of information that is now available and, more importantly, what that information can tell the Government about people’s lives. I cannot possible navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones.” (Bold lettering added for emphasis).
Judge Leon also said the program was unjustified because there was very little evidence it had prevented any terrorism. He said, in fact, there was not a single case where the gathering of metadata from the NSA spy program stopped an imminent attack!