NSA Ordered to Stop Collecting, Querying Plaintiffs' Phone Records
Affirming his previous ruling that the NSA’s telephone records collection program is unconstitutional, a federal judge ordered the NSA to cease collecting the telephone records of an individual and his business. The judge further ordered the NSA to segregate any records that have already been collected so that they are not reviewed when the NSA’s telephone records database is queried. The order comes 20 days before the NSA program is set to expire pursuant to the USA FREEDOM Act.
United States District Judge Richard Leon issued the order in Klayman v. Obama, a case in which EFF appeared as amicus curiae. Judge Leon ruled in December 2013 that the program was unconstitutional because it violated the 4th Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches. But the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit sent the case back to him when it held that the plaintiffs in the case did not have standing to sue because they were Verizon Wireless customers, not Verizon Business Network Services (VBNS) customers, and the latter is the only provider the US government has acknowledged participated in the program. The plaintiff then amended the complaint and added two more plaintiffs, J.J. Little and his firm J.J. Little & Associates, P.C., both of which are long-standing VBNS customers.
Judge Leon found that these two new plaintiffs had standing to sue the NSA both over the past phone records collection as well as the ongoing collection. He then issued a preliminary injunction barring the NSA from further collection and querying of their records that had already been collected.
Judge Leon acknowledged that the program was due to expire in 20 days. However, the intended diminishing duration of the program did not diminish the need for the injunction:
Because “[i]t has long been established that the loss of constitutional freedoms, ‘for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury,’” the Little plaintiffs have adequately demonstrated irreparable injury. As such, it makes no difference that this violation now has a foreseeable end.
The order is limited to the two Little plaintiffs. But Judge Leon’s opinion and his refutation of the government’s arguments, which are almost identical to the government's arguments in other mass surveillance cases, should be broadly influential in ongoing and future challenges to the NSA's suspicionless spying. We’ll post a more detailed legal analysis of his opinion soon.