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Blog

    US District Court Judge Rules NSA Has to Stop Collecting Data, For Now

    12/16/2013

    They might still be monitoring your phone calls to mom and bartering for gold with your World of Warcraft character, but for the foreseeable future, the NSA will have to shut down its metadata collection program...at least according to US District Court Judge Richard Leon, who today approved an injunction against the operation pending the outcome of litigation.

    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.

    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.

    Today's action was only an injunction and not a finding of fact by the court, and is limited, applying only to a select few Verizon accounts belonging to the Plaintiff, Larry Klayman, and one of his clients. Due to its limited scope, it is highly unlikely we can call this a fatal blow to government surveillance, but it is a start.

    An injunction ends a program temporarily (at least, in this case, for the Plaintiff), because the judge believes should the program be allowed to continue, it would result in ongoing and future harm to the Plaintiff. In this case, the longer the NSA spies on Mr. Klayman, the more potential claim he has to a Fourth Amendment violation.

    And the judge wasn't subtle when it came to explaining why he was issuing the NSA a temporary hold on the metadata program:

    “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 added."

    Not exactly giving the NSA the benefit of the doubt, really. Leon, who is a George W. Bush appointee to the bench, also was very specific in his criticism, expressing his "significant doubts" that the NSA's decision to build complex records on your cell phone habits connected at all to preventing terror. 

    Of course, you need not worry that the NSA is now ignoring you, completely detached from your life and strugging to understand its place in polite society. Naaaaahhhhh. Aside from the two people involved in the litigation, the NSA is still happily logging your cell phone calls and gazingly lovingly at your Instagram photos, agreeing with your Facebook updates and putting together a comprehensive Christmas list from your Pinterest, which they'll happily pass on to Santa if you only ask. And even those two guys might not be so lucky. The court immediately stayed the injunction, allowing the NSA to continue to tap the Plaintiffs while the NSA prepares an appeal.

    Even when we're lucky, we're unlucky, I guess. Take heart, at least, that this is the first major blow to an NSA program in years, and it's probably the first one you've known about in decades, and that's a step forward in any case.