After months of debate since Snowden left the US with stolen records from the NSA contractor Booz Allen, a federal court judge made a ruling today reports CNN.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the National Security Agency's bulk collection of metadata, phone records of the time and numbers called without any disclosure of content, apparently violates privacy rights.
His preliminary ruling favored five plaintiffs led by the ACLU attorneys challenging the practice, but Leon limited the decision only to their case.
‘I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval," said Leo. ‘Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.’
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who was appointed to the federal district court in Washington by President George W. Bush, immediately stayed Monday's ruling to give the government time to appeal. As a result, his ruling will have no immediate impact in stopping the massive data-collection effort.
The ruling broke new legal ground by deciding that today's computerized gathering of all dialing records represents a new threat to privacy that was not fully recognized in the past. Previously, a Supreme Court decision from 1979 said that phone records, unlike phone content, were not protected under the Fourth Amendment. At that time, only primitive technology existed.
Today, by contrast, the NSA's computers can gather, store and sift untold millions of calls, and that changes the constitutional balance, Judge Leon wrote. This is groundbreaking since no one could forecast in 1979 the technology capability of today, especially accessible to a tech geek like a Snowden.
‘The almost Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone meta-data of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived in 1979,’ he wrote.
He also questioned whether the phone records were useful in fighting terrorism. 'The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA's bulk data collection actually stopped an imminent attack,’ Leon said.
ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, one of two attorneys who argued the ACLU case last month, had this reaction to today’s ruling:
‘This is a strongly worded and carefully reasoned decision that ultimately concludes, absolutely correctly, that the NSA’s call-tracking program can’t be squared with the Constitution,’ states Jaffer in the ACLU press release today.