Federal Judge Rules NSA Collection of Phone Metadata ‘Likely Unconstitutional’

Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled on a lawsuit today brought by World Net Daily columnist Larry Klayman that the National Security Agency’s collection of phone call metadata violates the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches.

Judge Leon, appointed by George W. Bush, wrote that the NSA’s programs are “likely unconstitutional” and “almost Orwellian.” MSNBC:

“The government, in its understandable zeal to protect our homeland, has crafted a counterterrorism program with respect to telephone metadata that strikes the balance based in large part on a thirty-four year old Supreme Court precedent,” Judge Richard Leon wrote, “the relevance of which has been eclipsed by technological advances and a cell-phone centric lifestyle heretofore inconceivable.”

The judge also addressed the 1979 Smith v Maryland Supreme Court decision that allowed government collection of phone data via what are known as “pen registers.” The Court ruled at the time that once a phone call is received by a third party there’s no longer an expectation of privacy.

“I am convinced that the surveillance program now before me is so different from a simple pen register” — the type of search deemed legal in Smith — that it is “of little value in assessing whether the Bulk Telephony Metadata Program constitutes a Fourth Amendment search.”

However, the judge stayed the ruling until and if the government loses its subsequent appeal. In other words, the government won’t have to immediately comply.

In a statement delivered to Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden said:

“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 wrote. “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.”

NSA’s collection of phone metadata was in fact not initially exposed by Snowden, with the aforementioned Smith v Maryland, a 1979 Supreme Court case argued in the light of day, being once example of previous revelations of NSA surveillance. There were also numerous reports about earlier programs, especially in 2006 when Bush’s circumvention of the FISA Court first came to light.

Meanwhile, you might recognize Larry Klayman, not only from his WND column, but also as the founder of Judicial Watch. Klayman has a record of using lawsuits as a political weapon against Democratic administrations.

Among other fringe remarks, Klayman once wrote about President Obama: “put the Quran down, get up off your knees and come out with your hands up!” He also complained that conservatives were becoming “the new niggers.”

Last month, Klayman held a rally in Washington, DC, specifically designed to somehow “overthrow” the president and launch “the second American revolution.”

Most recently, he compared himself with Nelson Mandela, likening his fight to end apartheid with Klayman’s fight against Obama. And if that wasn’t enough, just read this.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.