Rul­ing would halt NSA snoop­ing im­me­di­ately

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE AND STEPHEN DI­NAN

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.

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