The Slatest

Judge Rules NSA Phone Program Likely Unconstitutional

Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Keith Alexander (2nd R) speaks as Deputy Attorney General James Cole (R) listens during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee December 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Politico’s Josh Gerstein with the breaking news:

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. …


“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 was in response to a lawsuit brought by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman (although—as Glenn Greenwald was quick to note—the ACLU has filed a similar one as well). Leon issued a preliminary injuction barring the NSA from collecting metadata from the Verizon accounts of Klayman and one of his clients—although the judge stayed the order to allow for an appeal. Still, the ruling is a major one nonetheless given that it represents the first major legal setback for the program since the NSA sprung an Edward Snowden-sized leak this past summer. 

Slate will have more on the ruling shortly.

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