A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion] Monday that the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] program of collecting phone call data is likely unconstitutional. Judge Richard Leon ruled in a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by activist attorney and former government prosecutor Larry Klayman. Klayman, founder of the political advocacy group Freedom Watch [advocacy website], claimed the surveillance practices violate citizens' reasonable expectation of privacy, rights to free speech and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process rights. Leon found that plaintiffs had standing and demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, granting in part their motion for a preliminary injunction:
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 and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on "that degree of privacy" that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware "the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power," would be aghast.However, Leon stayed his order pending appeal. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is reviewing the ruling.
The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In September the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court released [JURIST report] a previously classified opinion [text, PDF] explaining why a NSA program to keep records of Americans' phone calls is constitutional. Also in September the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] urged the Obama administration [JURIST report] to curb the FBI's surveillance powers. In August the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns [JURIST op-ed].