[A2k] US judge says NSA's mass collection of phone data could be illegal | South China Morning Post
Susan Isiko Strba
susan.isiko.strba at bluewin.ch
Tue Dec 17 23:40:23 PST 2013
A US judge has struck a blow against the National Security Agency's bulk
collection of phone records, ruling that it breaches citizens' privacy
to an "almost Orwellian" degree that is probably unconstitutional.
The scathing ruling on Monday by a federal judge in Washington was
stayed pending appeal, but if upheld it could lead to the agency being
barred from indiscriminately gathering metadata on millions of private
calls. Metadata covers the time, duration and destination of calls but
not their content.
While not a final judgment, the first such ruling put the administration
on the back foot at the start of what will no doubt be a protracted
series of legal challenges to the NSA's global surveillance network.
And it was seized upon by fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden to
support his case that he is a whistle-blower exposing official overreach
rather than a traitor endangering national security.
US District Court Judge Richard Leon said: "I cannot imagine a more
indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and hi-tech
collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single
Leon argued that American founding father James Madison, one of the
authors of the US Constitution, would be "aghast" at the government's
"almost Orwellian" breach of citizens' rights to privacy.
He also took aim at US government claims that the scale of
data-gathering was necessary to thwart terrorist plots.
"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," Leon wrote.
The NSA refused to comment. The US Justice Department said it was
examining the ruling.
"We believe the programme is constitutional as previous judges have
found," a Justice Department spokesman said.
Two plaintiffs, Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, brought a case
against Barack Obama's administration after Snowden revealed the vast
scale of the NSA's digital dragnet.
Documents provided by Snowden to /The Guardian /revealed that the NSA
had compelled US telecoms giant Verizon to provide agents with its
clients' call metadata.
Subsequent leaks from Snowden's vast trove of classified documents
suggest that other telephone and internet providers have also provided
private details on both US and foreign clients.
Leon's ruling would bar the US government from continuing to siphon off
metadata without judicial approval.
"In the months ahead other ... courts no doubt will wrestle to find the
proper balance consistent with our constitutional system," he wrote.
Leon said the appeal process would take at least six months.
Snowden expressed satisfaction in a statement passed to /The/ /New York
Times /by his journalist ally Glenn Greenwald.
"Today, a secret programme authorised by a secret court was, when
exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is
the first of many," Snowden said.
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