Judge rules NSA collection ‘almost certainly’ violates Constitution

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon called the NSA’s tactics ‘almost Orwellian’

Technology industry giants now have a crucial ally in their fight back against the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance tactics — the U.S. court system.

On Dec. 16, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s collection of records “almost certainly” violates the Constitution, which could provide the ammo that those affected by the program need to bring litigation.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, in court in Washington, D.C., said that a 1979 Supreme Court ruling in Smith v. Maryland which allowed the NSA to collect citizens’ phone records should no longer apply since technology and surveillance have both changed so much since.

 “The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,” Leon wrote. He also said that the NSA’s bulk data collection and analysis “almost certainly does violate a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the ruling should have little immediate legal impact, as Leon stayed the opinion until an expected government appeal is heard. Still, the case proved that the U.S. legal system is willing to criticize the government agency’s data collection tactics. Previously, most lawsuits against the NSA were dismissed because plaintiffs could not prove beyond a doubt that they were a target of NSA surveillance.

Many, including Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, publicly praised the ruling, with the latter saying it was a “carefully reasoned decision.” But others, such as former Department of Homeland Security official Stewart Baker, criticized it. Baker told the WSJ that the ruling was “a remarkably tone-deaf approach to a program that was started because we failed to identify some of the 9/11 hijackers.”

The ruling comes ahead of an important meeting on Dec. 17 between President Obama and the heads of multiple technology companies concerning government surveillance. Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter are expected to attend.


InsideCounsel has had the legal ramifications of NSA surveillance covered from the beginning:

Law agencies ask wireless carriers for over 1.1 million customer cellphone records

Tech giants make appeal to reform government surveillance tactics

EU calls on U.S. to restore trust post-Snowden surveillance revelations

Qualcomm CEO says NSA surveillance affecting business in China

Facebook CEO says government “blew it” with surveillance tactics

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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