U.S. Judge Finds NSA Surveillance Program Unlawful

Americans concerned over their constitutional rights

By: Ryan Moore, Staff Writer

The NSA bulk collection program may be constitutionally unsound, a recent ruling by a U.S. judge reveals.

Reuters recently reported that U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program, which was gathering American citizens’ phone records, is likely unlawful. The U.S. government allegedly started the surveillance program as a metadata counterterrorism program.

The program is a systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on U.S. citizens. Department of Justice spokesman Andrew Ames told reporters that they believe the program is constitutional, as previous judges have found. However, skeptics criticize the surveillance program’s value, often citing the fact that the government cannot state one instance in which bulk data prevented an imminent attack.

“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, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush in 2002, wrote in the 68-page ruling.

Concerns over the NSA have been ongoing. One of the most recent cases involved Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who revealed the massive phone record collection to U.S. and British media.

In June, Snowden uncovered documents that showed a U.S. surveillance court that secretly approved the collection of millions of raw daily phone records in America. Although the NSA claimed the data collected was critical to spotting possible terrorist plots and were not recordings of actual conversations, in his ruling Judge Leon wrote that the program likely violated Americans’ right to be free of unreasonable searches.

An Obama administration representative stated that judges assigned to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court had declared bulk communications of telephone metadata lawful. The U.S. Department of Justice have been relying on the 1979 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court which states that people have little privacy interest when concerning records held by a third party such as phone companies.

Judge Leon writes that this is a different situation.

“The government, in its understandable zeal to protect our homeland, has crafted a counterterrorism program with respect to telephone metadata that strikes the balance based in large part on a 34-year-old Supreme Court precedent, the relevance of which has been eclipsed by technological advances and a cell phone-centric lifestyle heretofore inconceivable,” he wrote in his ruling.

Former columnist for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald, who used documents leaked to him by Snowden to cover the metadata collection program, applauded the ruling.

“This is a huge vindication for Edward Snowden and our reporting,” Greenwald wrote in an e-mail. “Snowden came forward precisely because he knew that the NSA was secretly violating the constitutional rights of his fellow citizens, and a federal court ruled today that this is exactly what has been happening.”

This August, the Obama Administration appointed a committee of experts to review NSA activities. The committee made a total of 40 recommendations, one of which would require that the NSA give up collection of bulk telephony metadata, instead suggesting that telecommunications or third-party companies store the data. However, whether the Obama Administration will implement these recommendations is yet to be determined.

In a statement published in-tandem with the release of the committee’s recommendations, the White House stated that the recommendations would be reviewed and considered in detail by President Obama.

“Over the next several weeks, as we bring to a close the administration’s overall review of signals intelligence, the president will work with his national security team to study the Review Group’s report, and to determine which recommendations we should implement.”

Ryan Moore is an Algonquin College graduate, currently studying at York University.Right now, he’s investigating the Canadian mental health system.


Image Courtesy of BBC.

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