A federal judge ruled last month that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of phone records violates the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches, but he put his decision on hold pending a near-certain government appeal. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction sought by Plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, concluding they were likely to prevail in their constitutional challenge. Leon, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, ruled that the two men are likely to be able to show that their privacy interests outweigh the government’s interest in collecting the data. Judge Leon says that means the massive collection program is an unreasonable search under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
The collection program was disclosed by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, provoking a heated debate about civil liberties. The Obama administration has defended the program as a crucial tool against terrorism. But in his a 68-page, heavily footnoted opinion, Leon concluded that the government didn’t cite a single instance in which the program “actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack.” Judge Leon wrote:
I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.
Judge Leon stayed his ruling pending appeal “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.” This is a situation where the constitutional rights of citizens will have to be weighed against the ongoing threat of massive harm to our country. It’s certainly well-known and recognized by our elected leaders that our enemies badly want to do great harm to the United States.
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