Judge rules NSA phone data-mining unconstitutional

Judge rules NSA phone data-mining unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled Monday that the National Security Agency's (NSA's) collection of domestic phone record metadata is unconstitutional. The judge isn't enforcing his order, however, because the government is expected to appeal the ruling, according to Politico.

The NSA's phone record collection activities first came to public light in 2006, but got a new round of public analysis following the revelations of Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who disclosed the contents of NSA records to The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald. Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia in August, where he's been ever since.

While the NSA says that it's not listening to or recording the phone calls of American citizens without probable cause (which it recently told TV news program 60 Minutes it only has the authority to do in the case of "50 or 60 people"), it admits to collecting metadata about American citizens' calls. This metadata includes information on the number dialed, the time and date of the call and the call's frequency. Such data collection enables the agency's analysts to "chain out" connections between suspected terrorists to build a better idea of who is communicating with whom. The NSA is doing so with the implicit permission of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which has, for the past seven years, authorized such data collection activity.

The NSA's collection of metadata is at the heart of the case before Judge Leon, which was filed by attorney Larry Klayman, founder and former chairman of conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch. Klayman filed suit against the Obama administration on behalf of several plaintiffs earlier this year.

In issuing his ruling, Leon called NSA's collection of metadata "almost Orwellian," an "'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion'" that likely violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution - the part of the Bill of Rights which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and requires a judicial warrant to be supported by probable cause. The Justice Department claims such metadata collection is not covered under the Fourth Amendment, since it's routinely collected by phone companies for billing purposes and shared voluntarily.

Judge Leon waved off an attempt to cite a 1979 Supreme Court case often cited by the Justice Department as a precedent. In that case, the Court ruled that a "pen register," a device phone companies used to record numbers dialed from a particular phone line, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Judge Leon explained that technology has changed dramatically in the intervening decades, altering both the quantity and quality of information the Government can collect. He also said that the Justice Department had failed to prove that such metadata collection had actually helped to head off any terrorist attacks.

Last month the Supreme Court refused to hear a petition filed by the Electronic Information Privacy Center about the NSA metadata program. Leon's ruling suggests that the issue is going to end up before the Supreme Court eventually, however.

This past July Apple joined Google, Microsoft and several other large technology companies to call for greater transparency by the NSA to help restore public trust in their products and services after it was revealed that the agency's PRISM program tapped into their data directly.

Source: Politico

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 13 comments. Add yours.

asuperstarr says:

Great Read!

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Becjr says:

Oh, how our world is a changin'.

worknman says:

I thought this was a blog about Apple products? Does EVERY tech-related blog on the internet have to post this political shite?

Becjr says:

Isn't that like trying to argue with a fashion designer that fashion styled clothing in a runway in Milan has nothing to do with jeans purchased at Walmart?

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Nathan Bael says:

This is easily as tech related as it is political.

worknman says:

And what SPECIFICALLY does this have to do with Apple, or its products?

luqman24 says:

Well it is a major issue and concern for everyone who uses a cellphone regardless of the brand and the fact that Apple's products is also used to communicate with others does make it have a relation to this topic. And also I'm sure everyone would rather be informed and up to date with the latest on this topic regardless of what site it's on than ignore it and not know that their own government is turning it's back on them and snooping into their personal data and calls. Did you also have a problem when tech sites like this one were keeping its readers up to date on previous tropical storms that were happening in America?

worknman says:

'Well it is a major issue and concern for everyone who uses a cellphone regardless of the brand and the fact that Apple's products is also used to communicate with others does make it have a relation to this topic.'

Not really. At best, it is only tangentially related. Anyway, I never said it wasn't important. My issue is that it's not really on topic here. Might as well talk about the poaching of elephants on this blog as well, because it too is an important issue that we all should be informed about, right?

luqman24 says:

This is more related to technology than something about elephants or anything else. If it had nothing to do with technology then yes your point would be valid. You do know that this does include the NSA snooping on iPhones right? In fact Apple's data centre as a whole which means anything that could be in your iCloud too.

worknman says:

'If it had nothing to do with technology then yes your point would be valid.'

But this is not a 'technology' blog like Ars or TheVerge; it is an Apple blog. Sorry, I know I'm splitting hairs here. I'm just bitching because I follow about two-dozen tech-related blogs and I'm tired of seeing this political stuff on ALL of them. It's like bloggers feel like they have a civic responsibility to report on this stuff, as if to say, 'if we beat our readers over the head with this sh*t, maybe they'll finally get the point ....'

Okay, we get it. The NSA are evil and watching everything we do online. Enough is enough. There's no reason to print the same story 5,000 times. We understood it the first time we heard it.

luqman24 says:

It's a good thing it's being plastered on every tech site, the more people know about this the more people have an effect against their evil doing. Someone who doesn't read The Verge might read this site. It's all about keeping everyone informed and up to date on the topic. Feel free to ignore these articles if you wish to not hear about it. No one is forced to read what they don't want to.

gewappnet says:

Just read the last paragraph. Apple is concerned about this and so should you.

ralphtweety says:

Of course the judge's ruling may not mean anything, after all who really has any authority over the NSA - no one that I know of.