In the first major judgement to go against the U.S. National Security Agency mass global surveillance of communications, a federal judge here ruled on Monday that the bulk collection of telephone ‘metadata’ of Americans was likely to violate the U.S. Constitution.
Earlier this year whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the extent of the NSA’s spying on Internet and telephone communications across the world, including multiple targets in India.
This week District Court Judge Richard Leon granted a temporary order blocking the government from collecting metadata, or ‘call envelope’ information, from the Verizon Wireless accounts of the two plaintiffs, conservative legal activist Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, who has alleged that his son, an NSA cryptologist who supported Navy SEAL Team Six, may have been killed in Afghanistan by the U.S. government.
However Judge Leon also froze his own order to allow the Obama administration time to appeal the decision, in the interest of national security concerns.
In a 68-page ruling the judge said, “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analysing it without prior ‘judicial approval’”.
He added that such a programme infringed on the degree of ‘privacy’ that the founding fathers of the nation enshrined in the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Judge Leon also challenged the claim of the current and previous administrations that extensive mass surveillance was essential to prevent terror attacks.
In doing so he noted that 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.’
Following the decision, Mr. Snowden said that the ruling justified his disclosures, especially has he acted on “my belief that the NSA’s mass surveillance programmes would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts.”
Since the Guardian, the Washington Post and newspapers in other countries, including The Hindu, published numerous reports on NSA surveillance based on the documents he supplied, U.S. Congress has grilled top intelligence officials on whether any of the rules of the governing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were flouted by the spy agency.
There was also some diplomatic fallout of the episode as reports suggested that the NSA had spied on leaders of allied nations such as Germany, and even U.S. President Barack Obama distanced himself from being seen as authorising such programmes.