U.S. District Court Judge Rules NSA Metadata Collection Likely Violates Fourth Amendment

A United States District Court judge has ruled that the bulk metadata collection program maintained by the National Security Agency for years now likely is unconstitutional. The judge, ruling on a pair of law suits that claimed the NSA’s methods violated users’ privacy and civil rights, said that the metadata program “significantly intrudes on that expectation” of privacy.

Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday granted a preliminary injunction in a pair of related suits filed by Larry Klayman and a co-plaintiff who asserted that the NSA metadata collection program violated their expectation of privacy. The metadata program allows the agency to require Verizon and other phone providers to hand over the call records of millions of subscribers on a regular basis. Klayman and his co-plaintiff are both Verizon customers and Leon said in his ruling that the NSA program violates their expectation of privacy.

Leon’s injunction prevents the NSA from collecting any more records pertaining to Klayman and Charles Strange and also requires the agency to destroy any records it already has relating to those two customers. However, Leon also stayed his injunction pending an appeal by the government. The ruling is the first one that puts a dent in the NSA’s armor as it applies to the intelligence collection methods. The agency has asserted that its metadata and other programs are all supported by legal authority and done with proper legal oversight. In his ruling, Leon said that the metadata program amounts to a large-scale invasion of privacy.

“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 wrote in his ruling.

The judge said that the NSA’s metadata collection likely violates the Fourth Amendment. He said he also expects that the government will appeal this ruling but that he rejects the government’s assertion that removing the plaintiffs from the metadata database could lead to similar assertions from other people in the future. That argument is not the point, Leon said.

“For reasons already explained, I am not convinced at this point in the litigation that the NSA’s database has ever truly served the purpose of rapidly identifying terrorists and in time-sensitive investigations, and so I am certainly not convinced that the removal of two individuals from the database will ‘degrade’ the program in any meaningful sense,” Leon wrote.

Image from Flickr photos of DonkeyHotey.

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