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Federal Judge Rules NSA Phone Snooping Unconstitutional
Federal Judge Rules NSA Phone Snooping Unconstitutional

By Jennifer LeClaire
December 17, 2013 11:52AM

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The defense will appeal but the snooping by the NSA probably won't stop because of any lawsuit. Rather the NSA spying is absolutely going to be transformed into something that skirts the law. If NSA can’t do the spying, it’ll have the Brits contract with our telecom providers to get the information they want because that’s totally legal, said one analyst.
 


Plaintiffs in the Klayman v. Obama case have a legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the U.S. government’s bulk collection and querying of phone record metadata, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

The court also ruled that the plaintiffs demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourth Amendment claim, and that they will suffer irreparable harm without preliminary injunction relief.

"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval," said U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."

Snowden Fallout Continues

Here’s the backstory, as the suit describes it: On June 5, The Guardian reported the first of several leaks of classified information from Edward Snowden, a former NSA contract employee. The leaks continue to reveal multiple U.S. government intelligence collection and surveillance programs.

The Guardian reported that the NSA is collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily. The U.S. government confirmed it ordered Verizon to turn over call detail records. Soon after came the revelation of an NSA program called PRISM that taps into user data from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and many others. Larry Klayman, founder of the public interest organization Freedom Watch, is among those who has filed suit.

In his opinion, Leon said the government “does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.”

The NSA’s Next Step

We asked Michael Disabato, a managing vice president of network and telecom at Gartner, for his take on the ruling. He told us the defense will appeal but doubts the snooping will stop because of any lawsuit.

“This is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, but on the Internet our Constitution is just a set of local ordinances. So if NSA can’t do the spying, they’ll have the Brits contract with our telecom providers to get the information they want because that’s totally legal,” Disabato said.

“You’ve got the five eyes, which are New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, the U.S. and Canada. Any one of these countries can approach the carriers on a purely commercial basis to get data and not even tell them why. They can also have a front company go do it and pass it on to them and nobody would know. So is the snooping going to stop? No. Is it going to be transformed into something that skirts the law, absolutely,” he added.
 

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