Monday, December 16, 2013

NSA smacked down over massive data collection of Americans' phone records

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What Orwell feared.
The fight for Americans' privacy rights and civil liberties against an increasingly totalitarian surveillance state just got a major boost:

A federal district judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency program that is systematically keeping records of all Americans' phone calls most likely violates the Constitution, describing its technology as "almost Orwellian" and suggesting that James Madison would be "aghast" to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way. 

The judge, Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, ordered the government to stop collecting data on the personal calls of the two plaintiffs in the case and to destroy the records of their calling history. But Judge Leon, appointed to the bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush, stayed his injunction "in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues," allowing the government time to appeal it, which he said could take at least six months.

"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary' invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval," Judge Leon wrote in a 68-page ruling. "Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment," which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. 

Let's keep this in perspective. This is just one judge. The government will appeal. It is likely that an appeal will be successful, more or less, and that the NSA will be authorized to continue doing most, if not all, of what it is doing now. And, regardless, given the available technology, the surveillance state is here to stay. (The question is just how vast and unregulated that surveillance state will be, and in the end whether Americans' retain anything of their essential American-ness.)

But this is nonetheless a victory -- hopefully not just a temporary one -- for the forces of liberty and privacy, and it's pretty much entirely thanks to Edward Snowden and those, like Glenn Greenwald, who have worked so hard, against the shrieking cries of the establishment and its supporters across the spectrum, to reveal the truth, as Charles Pierce explains (via Libby):

Let us be clear. No matter what you think of Snowden, or Glenn Greenwald, and no matter what you think of what they did, this ruling does not happen if the NSA doesn't let a contractor walk out of the joint with the family jewels on a flash drive. This ruling does not happen if we do not know what we now know, and we don't know any of that unless Snowden gathers the data and leaks it to the Guardian. This entire country was founded after a revolution that was touched off to a great extent by the concept of individual privacy.

Personally, I think very highly of what they did. And for this fight to have any chance at all, we need much more of it.

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