In a major rebuke to the National Security Agency’s mass collection of telephone data, a federal judge ruled that the agency’s surveillance program likely violates the Constitution and also granted two Verizon subscribers’ request for an order to destroy so-called meta-data.
On Monday in Washington,D.C., U.S. District Judge Richard Leon issued a ruling that “bars the Government from collecting … any telephony data” associated with the Verizon account of two citizens who filed the lawsuit, and “requires the Government to destroy any such metadata in its possession that was collected through the bulk collection program.”
The order, however, will be suspended while the government appeals to a higher court.
In his conclusion granting the order, Leon explains that the rules used by the government to justify the surveillance are old and outdated:
“The Government, in its understandable zeal to protect our homeland, has crafted a counterterrorism program […] based in large part on a thirty-four year old Supreme Court precedent, the relevance of which has been eclipsed by technological advances and a cell phone-centric lifestyle”
The judge also rejected the argument that the existence of a secret NSA court, known as the FISA court, precluded him from reviewing the surveillance program for constitutional questions.
“While Congress has great latitude to create statutory scheme like FISA, it may not hang a cloak of secrecy over the Constitution,” he wrote as part of the 68 page ruling.
Leon’s decision came in response to a petition brought by conservative activitist Larry Klayman, who sued after former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, began leaking documents this summer that showed that the extent of US government surveillance is much broader than previously imagined.
Klayman argued that the government’s decision to collect records of every phone call in the country is unconstitutional. He also asked the court to halt a data collection program known as “PRISM” under which the NSA has forced internet companies like Google and Microsoft to feed the agency data about subscribers.
Judge Leon declined to address the issue of internet data on the grounds Klayman lacked standing, and because the government claims it halted the PRISM program in 2011.
In granting the preliminary injunction (which is suspended pending appeal), Leon wrote that Klayman’s arguments about the Fourth Amendment — which cover illegal search and seizure — to be the most compelling.
We’ll have more details soon, but in the meantime, you can see more at Politico or read the ruling for yourself below: