Ruling would halt NSA snooping immediately
A federal judge ruled last week that the National Security Agency must immediately stop snooping on a lawyer who challenged the spy agency’s phone data collection program — but issued a stay later in the day after the government made an emergency appeal, saying the decision would have forced them to shutter the whole program.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon’s afternoon ruling was seen as a major win for privacy advocates, who said despite its narrow reach it sent a severe message to the government about privacy rights.
But just hours later, Judge Leon gave the government a respite after the Justice Department said it was impossible to stop gathering data on the lone lawyer and his law firm.
“The only practicable way for the NSA to comply with the Court’s preliminary injunction is immediately to cease all collection and queries of telephony metadata under the Section 215 program — that is, to shut the program down,” Benjamin C. Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney ruling to allow for the government to appeal.
The appeals court took 20 months to issue a ruling, issuing one in August that Mr. Klayman, who used Verizon Wireless for his phone service, had been unable to prove his number was one of those collected by the NSA. The government had only publicly acknowledged scooping up the phone records of Verizon Business Network Services customers.
The case was sent back to Judge Leon for further proceedings. Mr. Klayman then quickly added Mr. Little and his law firm as plaintiffs because they both subscribed to Verizon Business Network Services, giving Judge Leon a clear case to reissue his ruling.
The Obama administration had argued in court that the snooping program is essential to national security, saying it can help stop terrorist attacks.
But Judge Leon brushed those claims aside, saying the government had not offered any cases where the phone program aided a time-sensitive investigation in heading off an imminent terrorist threat.
“Not exactly confidence inspiring!” he wrote.