A federal judge 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. As Politico reports, Judge Richard Leon blasted, “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.” This is the first significant legal setback for the NSA’s surveillance program since Edward Snowden exposed it.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found that the program appears to run afoul of 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.”
Leon’s ruling is the first significant 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 metadata program has been approved repeatedly by numerous judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and at least one judge sitting in a criminal case.
The Blog of Legal Times adds:
A federal magistrate judge in Washington today released a 157-page report detailing evidence and testimony in a dispute over the handling of evidence from mass arrests of protesters in downtown Washington in 2002.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge John Facciola did not, however, offer his conclusions on the central issue of whether city or police officials mishandled, concealed or destroyed evidence.
Facciola, who was appointed by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to probe the evidence-related allegations as a special master, wrote that he wasn’t clear on the scope of his authority at this point.
“As I am reluctant to speculate as to Judge Sullivan’s intentions, particularly when the sanctions sought are so severe,” Facciola wrote.
The underlying litigation involves mass arrests by the Metropolitan Police Department during protests around Pershing Park in 2002. In recent years, the arrest litigation has been put on hold as lawyers for the plaintiffs and the city fought over allegations that officials mishandled evidence and withheld information from the court.
Facciola’s report didn’t include a time frame for when Sullivan might decide how the case should proceed. “I will instead issue the following findings of fact but defer issuing conclusions of law until Judge Sullivan indicates the nature of the authority he wishes me to exercise,” Facciola wrote, “assuming he intends me to have additional responsibilities once he reviews my findings.”
Full judge’s report: