NSA Phone Metadata Program Likely Unconstitutional: Fed. Judge

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For the first time in open court, a federal judge has ruled that the NSA's phone metadata program, which collects information on almost all calls in the nation, is likely unconstitutional.

In a suit filed by legal activist Larry Klayman, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon granted a motion by Klayman to put the phone surveillance program on hold while the court determines whether or not it violates Klayman's (and other Americans') constitutional rights, reports Politico.

What does the judge's ruling mean for NSA surveillance?

The National Security Administration (NSA) has done its best since ex-contractor Edward Snowden's revelations about PRISM and other surveillance projects to both minimize and legally justify its allegedly illegal actions.

This latest ruling was one of many recent court decisions concerning the controversial phone program. In June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals shut down a six-year-old case by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) which alleged that the NSA's warrantless wiretapping of phones was unconstitutional. The problem in that case, as in others, was that the CCR didn't provide the court with proof that the NSA was spying on its members.

NSA phone surveillance was also upheld by the now-notorious FISA courts, the secret courts which have granted legal go-aheads to the FBI and NSA for their spying over the last decade. In September, a FISA court judge ruled that the NSA's phone program may have been skirting unconstitutional action, but it was still constitutional.

Judge Leon's decision on Monday is a decisive victory for opponents of the NSA's surveillance, when many courts before have simply affirmed the NSA's efforts.

Preliminary Injunction and Stay

What makes Klayman's suit different from prior attempts to fight NSA spying is that the court granted a preliminary injunction based on the initial case made by the government and Klayman.

A preliminary injunction can be granted to block or stop one party from doing something that is the focus of a pending case. In order for a judge to grant such an order, he or she must rule that the case is strong enough to succeed on its merits. In order words, Judge Leon believes that Klayman's claim that snooping on his Verizon account metadata violated his Fourth Amendment rights is a strong one.

Despite the injunction and Judge Leon's distaste for the program as grossly overbroad, the court's ruling is itself stayed pending the government's appeal.

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