NSA Spying Illegal, Judge Crushes Their Legal Backbone

NSA Spying Illegal, Judge Crushes Their Legal Backbone

Everyone knows the NSA has violated the Fourth Amendment but legally proving that? There hasn’t been a lot of success. No one’s been able to chip away at the legal foundation of the NSA spying program…until now. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon is the first judge to call the program unconstitutional.

“This decision represents an important first step in having the constitutionality of government surveillance programs decided in the regular court system rather than a secret court where only one side is presented,” Sen. Paul said in a recent press release.”…The NSA phone surveillance program is a blatant abuse of power and an invasion of our privacy. This ruling reminds the Federal government that it is not above the law.”

Will Judge Leon’s ruling stop what the NSA is doing? That is a.. negative. It only applies to the people who brought the case to court, according to CNN’s Senior Legal Anaylst, Jeffrey Toobin. It’s also possible that his decision is overturned on appeal.

But the key bullet here is Leon’s challenge against the relevance of Smith v. Maryland. This 1979 Supreme Court ruling has been the legal backbone for the NSA spying program thus far. Essentially, it’s been used to justify the idea that folks shouldn’t expect privacy rights regarding third-party records. (This is the kind of records that, say, your phone company holds…) And it’s been held up by lawyers everywhere in favor of the NSA. That legal wall is starting to crumble though.

“[However,] when do present-day circumstances…become so thoroughly unlike those considered by the Supreme Court thirty four years ago that a precedent like Smith simply does not apply?”, asks Leon. “The answer, unfortunately for the Government, is now.” (The Atlantic)

“I cannot possibly navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones,” stated Leon. (Politico)

Add on to the fact that there hasn’t been any evidence that the NSA spying program is doing anything significant besides pissing everyone off. Does it prevent terrorism? The judge isn’t convinced that it does and this is part of the reason why he feels that it shouldn’t be “permissible under the Fourth Amendment.” (Politico)

Unfortunately, as Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic points out, “we are still much closer to the beginning of this story than we are to the end.” At least no one’s backing down.

(Photo courtesy of mlcastle, via Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)



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