In one of the biggest setbacks in the government’s spying program since Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks over the summer, a federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction, saying that the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA “likely” violates the Constitution.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon took on the case brought by conservative activists Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, a landmark case in the legal battle against one of the largest spying apparatuses in the world; the NSA.
With over 40,000 employees, the NSA is the largest spy agency in the U.S., knocking over America’s long standing intelligence gathering organization the C.I.A., which has an estimated employee count of a little over 20,000 (the actual figure is classified.)
Still U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon says the likelihood of the plaintiffs success in challenging the constitutionality of the NSA’s activity is good, despite staying his decision “pending appeal,” by the U.S. government. Critics of the ruling say the delay will only provide more time for the U.S. government to not only continue to violate the privacy of American citizens, but allow the U.S. government to work up a more powerful defense.
The preliminary injunction comes after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found validity in the plaintiff’s claim that “privacy interests outweigh the government’s interest,” in collecting and storing information. The plaintiffs assert that the NSA’s surveillance program is in direct violation of unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
Despite the ruling, the Obama administration stands by the NSA’s methods, saying the program is a “crucial tool” in the fight against terrorism.
Starting with the Patriot Act signed by President Bush, many Americans feel that the surveillance apparatus of the United States has burgeoned to a baffling and dizzying scope. Just recently the agency took on the largest data collection and storing initiative in history, constructing the “Utah Data Center” near Bluffdale, Utah. The facility is estimated to have the capacity to store “exabytes or higher” size of information. An exabyte is equivalent to one quintillion bytes. To put that in a measurable figure, it’s about “a million-million average hard drives.”
“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,” said Judge Leon. He went on to conclude that the U.S. government had failed to prove one incident where the collection and storing of American’s phone and e-mail records foiled a terrorist attack in waiting.
Judge Leon has petitioned for a ban on the government’s practice of collecting metadata from person Verizon accounts, as well as the destruction of any metadata the government may currently have in its possession. The success of the Judge’s plea remains to be seen.
For now the ongoing debate on the trade-off between security and liberty rages on, with many Americans perplexed about the U.S. government’s seemingly insatiable desire to collect their private information.
While most Americans agree that since they aren’t doing anything wrong they have nothing to worry about, others argue that the issue it not what the NSA is collecting- it’s the fact of the matter that they are even collecting at all, a violation of basic civil liberties.
Without a conclusive ruling from Judge Leon, the U.S. government and the NSA continue to collect and store the data of American citizens. Observers see this case as a litmus test for how far Americans are willing to allow their government to go to protect their citizens from potential terrorist threats and whether or not the judicial system can protect citizens from executive overreach.
Judge Leon concluded that he must stay his hearing for now, “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.”
by John Amaruso