A federal judge has ruled Monday that the National Security Agency program which collects information on nearly all telephone calls made to, from or within the United States is likely to be unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled in a lawsuit by four Americans that the NSA program breaches the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
He also said the Justice Department had failed to demonstrate that collecting the so-called metadata had helped to head off 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,” wrote Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush.
“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.”
“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.
The preliminary injunction Leon granted Monday makes no definitive ruling on the constitutional questions in the case, but does take account of which side he believes is more likely to prevail.
Leon’s 68-page opinion is a legal setback for the NSA’s surveillance program since it was disclosed in June in news stories based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The Justice Department has argued that the collection of information on the time and length of calls, as well as the numbers called, did not amount to a search under the Fourth Amendment because that information is routinely available to telephone companies for billing purposes and is shared with those firms voluntarily.
NSA video screen shot