Washington, DC, United States (4E) – A federal judge has issued and stayed injunctions barring the National Security Agency (NSA) from collecting phone metadata of a Verizon customer and ordering it to destroy the said records collected from the complainant.
Judge Richard Leon of the District Court for the District of Columbia issued the orders Monday after finding that the NSA program of collecting phone call metadata on U.S. citizens for counter-terrorism purposes is likely unconstitutional for violating reasonable expectation of privacy and unreasonable searches.
The injunctions were in favor of two plaintiffs, who included legal activist Larry Klayman, the founder of Freedom Watch.
But Leon, at the same time, allowed the government to appeal his ruling in consideration of significant national security interests behind the controversial NSA program. The stay on the injunctions were also premised on a precedent ruling in the 1979 Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland, which found that no one has an expectation of privacy when it comes to phone records.
The plaintiffs sued NSA on June 6, a day after the NSA program was reported by a British newspaper to whom former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information about the phone metadata collection program.
Leon’s ruling came a day after NSA chief General Keith Alexander denied that the NSA was engaged in widespread surveillance of Americans.
Less than 60 “U.S. persons” were currently being targeted by the program worldwide as authorized by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, said Alexander in an interview over “60 Minutes” on Sunday.
Alexander also defended the controversial program saying that collection of phone metadata–the number dialed, time, date, and frequency of call–is least intrusive.
Meanwhile, the White House agreed with Alexander’s position not to grant amnesty to Snowden in exchange for him returning top secret information he stole from the NSA’s computers.
“What I can tell you is Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges in the U.S. He should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible where he’ll be afforded due process and protections,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney.
An estimated 31,000 documents taken by Snowden dealt with U.S. intelligence capabilities and gaps related to countries like China, Russia, and Iran, according to Rick Ledgett, head of the NSA task force assessing the effect of Snowden’s leaks.