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US Judge Rules NSA Phone Spying Is Likely Illegal

RIA Novosti

01:18 17/12/2013

WASHINGTON, December 16 (RIA Novosti) – A US federal judge on Monday ruled that the US government's mass collection of telephone data is probably illegal, a decision praised by fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, who first disclosed the surveillance program.

In a first-of-its-kind decision, US District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the US National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records likely violates the US Constitution but allowed the surveillance program to proceed pending an expected appeal by the government.

"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 it and analyzing it without judicial approval," Leon wrote in the ruling.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by plaintiff Larry Klayman and others in June in which they claim the NSA's mass collection of personal data is a blatant violation of the US Constitution and federal laws, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of association and due process.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor who disclosed the phone surveillance program earlier this year and later obtained temporary asylum in Russia, praised Monday's ruling in a statement released by lawyer and journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first published Snowden's revelations in the British newspaper The Guardian.

"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," Snowden said in the statement, The New York Times reported.

"Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many," Snowden added.

The United States has insisted that the bulk collection of phone data and other classified surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden play a critical role in combatting terrorism.

In his ruling Monday, however, Leon said he doubted the usefulness of tracking massive amounts of so-called "metadata" – information such as numbers dialed and calls received, as well as the time and duration of calls but not their content – in battling terrorists.

"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," Leon wrote in the ruling.

Russia granted temporary asylum to Snowden in August despite extradition demands from the United States, where he faces charges of espionage and theft of government property. He has been living at an undisclosed location in Russia since then.

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