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Federal judge rules NSA metadata collection a violation of the Fourth Amendment

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Several media outlets, including CNN, are reporting that a federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency data-mining program which collects information on nearly all telephone calls made to and from the United States, as well as domestic calls made within the US., is likely unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said that the collection and storage of "metadata" by the NSA appears to violate the Fourth Amendment restriction on unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge also found that the Justice Department had fell short in its attempt to show that the program had thwarted terrorist attacks.

"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," Judge Leon said in the ruling. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."

The ruling came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by Larry Klayman of Judical Watch, and four other plaintiffs.

However, the ruling is preliminary and is only an opinion by Judge Leon of who he believes is more likely to the case. It did not require him to make a definitive ruling on the constitutional questions related to the lawsuit.

According to media reports on the case, government lawyers and previous judges who ruled that the NSA program was legal argued that a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, Smith v. Maryland, which found no search warrant was needed by police to record numbers dialed on a particular phone line, allowed the NSA to collect the data.

Judge Leon disagreed, saying in his 68-page ruling, “The ubiquity of phones has dramatically altered the quantity of information that is now available and, more importantly, what that information can tell the Government about people’s lives. I cannot possibly navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones.”

Judge Leon also found that searches by the NSA under the program were likely a violation of the Fourth Amendment since the agency could not demostrate that that the program actually prevented any terrorist acts.

“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 wrote. “The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.”

The CNN report also says Judge Leon based his ruling on the fact that the government "does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitve in nature."

According to CNN Leon delayed enforcement of the order preventing the government from collecting the information, pending an appeal by the government.

A Justice Department spokesman told CNN on Monday that "we believe the program is constitutional as previous judges have found," but went on to say the ruling is being studied by the DOJ.

White House press secretary refused to comment at Monday's daily press briefing, saying he had not heard about the ruling. Carney referred all questions to the DOJ.



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