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Constitutional Law

NSA phone-data collection program likely unconstitutional, judge says

Posted Dec 16, 2013 3:50 PM CDT
By Mark Hansen

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A National Security Agency program that collects information from nearly all telephone calls made to or from the United States is probably unconstitutional, a federal judge held Monday.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon of Washington, D.C., said the NSA program appears to run afoul of the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, according to multiple reports.

Leon also said the Justice Department had failed to show that collecting the so-called metadata from phone calls had helped head off terrorist attacks, Politico reports.

The judge granted a preliminary injunction to conservative legal activists Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, saying they were likely to be able to show their privacy interests outweigh the government's interest in collecting the information. But he stayed implementation of the order to allow for the government to appeal.

"Plaintiffs have a very significant expectation of privacy in an aggregated collection of their telephone metadata covering the last five years, and the NSA's Bulk Telephony Metadata Program significantly intrudes on that expectation," Leon wrote. "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."

The ruling is the first significant legal setback to the program since its existence was disclosed last June by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.

Similar lawsuits over the constitutionality of the program are now pending in at least three other federal courts.

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