Wednesday, December 18, 2013


A US judge has ruled the National Security Agency's mass collection of telephone data unconstitutional.

Federal District Judge Richard Leon said the electronic spy agency's practice was an "arbitrary invasion".

The agency's collection of "metadata" including telephone numbers and times and dates of calls was exposed by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The White House dismissed the suggestion Mr Snowden receive amnesty if he stopped leaking documents. 

In his ruling in a Washington DC federal court on Monday, Mr Leon called the NSA's surveillance programme "indiscriminate" and an "almost Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States".
'Irreparable harm'

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by conservative activist Larry Klayman, a user of a Verizon mobile telephone who challenged the NSA's collection of metadata on his behalf and that of a client.

The NSA had ordered Verizon - one of the largest phone companies in the US - to disclose to it metadata, including telephone numbers, calling card numbers and the serial numbers of phones, of millions of calls it processes in which at least one party is in the US.

Mr Leon ruled the plaintiffs had demonstrated "a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourth Amendment claim and that they will suffer irreparable harm absent… relief", referring to the clause in the US constitution that bars unreasonable search and seizure by the government.

He issued a preliminary injunction against the NSA surveillance programme but suspended the order to allow for an appeal by the justice department, thus enabling the programme to continue for now.

Mr Klayman told the BBC the ruling "could have immediate impact. 

"If the NSA continues to do this, they're now on notice that it's illegal, and we will seek to have them held in criminal contempt of court."

Through Glenn Greenwald, a journalist with whom he has close ties, Mr Snowden issued a statement hailing the ruling.

"I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts," he wrote, according to the New York Times. 

"Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights," he added. "It is the first of many."
Former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker told the BBC's Katty Kay the ruling was "overcomeable" on appeal, but that Mr Leon's lengthy, detailed opinion would pose a "real burden" to the US government.

"This issue is going to get litigated and it's going to be difficult for the government for some months or even years to come," he said.

Earlier on Monday, the White House rejected the suggestion that Mr Snowden be granted amnesty, a day after a top NSA official publicly suggested a deal could be reached to keep Mr Snowden from leaking more documents.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US government continued to press Russia - where Mr Snowden has been granted asylum - to return him to the US.
"There's been no change in our position," he told reporters. 

"He faces felony charges here, he ought to be returned to the United States, again, where he will face full due process and protection under our system of justice, that we hope he will avail himself of."

On Sunday, Richard Ledgett, head of the NSA's task force investigating damage from Mr Snowden's leaks, discussed the possibility of an amnesty deal on the US television channel CBS.

"My personal view is, yes it's worth having a conversation about," he said.
"I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high, would be more than just an assertion on his part."
'Personal opinion'
File picture of the NSA headquarters  
The NSA has been making efforts to be seen as more transparent

Mr Carney said on Monday that the proposal represented Mr Ledgett's "personal opinion" and such decisions were ultimately made by the Department of Justice.
Earlier, NSA Director Gen Keith Alexander also dismissed the idea. 

"This is analogous to a hostage taker taking 50 people hostage, shooting 10, and then say, 'if you give me full amnesty, I'll let the other 40 go'. What do you do?"
Earlier this month, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper, which has published many of the Snowden documents, told UK MPs that only 1% of files leaked by Mr Snowden had been published by the newspaper.

The US has charged Mr Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information, and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence. 

Each of the charges carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

At the weekend, the NSA allowed a CBS television crew into its headquarters for the first time, in an effort to be more open about what the agency does with the data it collects. 


No comments:

Post a Comment