Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nsa's Call Data Collection Likely Illegal, Judge Says

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nsa's Call Data Collection Likely Illegal, Judge Says

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- A federal district judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans' phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, describing its technology as "almost Orwellian" and suggesting that James Madison would be "aghast" to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.

District of Columbia Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the government to stop collecting data on the personal calls of the two plaintiffs in the case and to destroy the records of their calling history. But the judge, appointed to the bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush, stayed his injunction "in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues," allowing the government time to appeal it -- a matter that he said could take at least six months.

The case is the first in which a federal judge who is not on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorized the once- secret program, has examined the bulk data collection on behalf of someone who is not a criminal defendant.

The Justice Department has said 15 separate surveillance court judges have held on 35 occasions that the calling data program is legal. It also marks the first successful legal challenge brought against the program since it was revealed in June after leaks by former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden.

"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," Judge Leon wrote in a 68-page ruling. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment," which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Justice Department spokesman Andrew Ames said government lawyers were studying the decision, but he added: "We believe the program is constitutional as previous judges have found."

In a statement from Moscow, where he has obtained temporary asylum, Mr. Snowden praised the ruling. "I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts," Mr. Snowden said in his statement. It was distributed by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who received leaked documents from Mr. …

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