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(Photo: Arild Nybø)

NSA Metadata Collection Is Unconstitutional, Judge Says

A U.S. District Court Judge ruled that the NSA's metadata surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment

In the first court ruling related to the National Security Agency's phonecall metadata collection program—one part of the widespread government surveillance efforts detailed in documents leaked by former NSA contract analyst Edward Snowden—U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the program violates the U.S. Constitution.

Starting back in June, the leaked documents have revealed how the NSA is collecting phone-call metadataemails, web searches, and other communications in a massive global surveillance program. In this court case, two men, Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, argued that the NSA's surveillance programs violate the Fourth Amendment, the part of the Constitution that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Leon agreed and decided that the NSA could no longer collect the two men's phone records. But he also put the injunction on hold, knowing that his ruling won't stick, says the Associated Press. The case, says the Guardian, will likely ultimately end up in front of the Supreme Court.

Since it's likely facing an appeal, it seems that Judge Leon's ruling has no real power. But, says Kevin Bankston, who works for the Open Technology Institute, a Washington-based thinktank, to Bloomberg, Judge Leon's verdict still has some clout:

“It robs the government of its talking point that the courts have never found there to be a meaningful privacy interest in phone records,” he said. “This decision absolutely should shift the debate.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

The NSA Was Spying in World of Warcraft
No, Really, the Government Can Read Your Email
How the NSA Stopped Trying to Prevent the Spread of Encryption And Decided to Just Break It Instead

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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