The US National Security Agency's (NSA) telephone metadata collection activities have been ruled unconstitutional in one of the first post-Snowden court cases to examine the NSA's mass surveillance.
US District Judge Richard Leon described the NSA spying as "almost Orwellian" and ordered the organisation to cease collecting and/or analysing the metadata of the two men who had brought the case.
It is the first time that a senior judge has opposed the NSA's mass surveillance and data collection activities and a number of other lawsuits launched in response to the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden will be heard during 2014.
"I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate' and ‘arbitrary invasion' than this systemic 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 wrote.
He continued: "Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy' that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment [of the US constitution]. Indeed, I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to be aware 'the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power', would be aghast."
However, the ruling will almost certainly be appealed and will no doubt eventually be decided in the Supreme Court. Indeed, it was a Supreme Court precedent set in 1979 that ultimately provided the justification for the NSA's global internet and telephone surveillance programmes, while a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, effectively rubberstamps NSA spying operations.
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