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Court's NSA ruling sets stage for contentious battle over surveillance

Jaikumar Vijayan | Dec. 18, 2013
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon's ruling in a case challenging the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records sets up what's likely to be a contentious legal fight over government surveillance in the U.S.

Leon's often-scathing language in describing the NSA's Bulk Telephony Metadata Program was seen as particularly encouraging by many opposed to the surveillance practices.

In a blog post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) highlighted several examples of Leon's unequivocal criticism of the NSA program. The advocacy group expressed particular satisfaction over Leon's decision to address a crucial 1979 Supreme Court ruling (Smith v. Maryland) that has often been cited by the government as a legal basis for the call records collection. In that ruling, the Supreme Court held that phone subscribers should have no legitimate expectation of privacy over metadata records acquired by the government directly from service providers.

In his opinion, Leon held that technological advances since that 1979 ruling made the issues in the current case a "far cry" from those considered 34 years ago.

"We are very happy the court could understand and appreciate that technology has evolved to such a degree, that Smith v. Maryland doesn't control," said Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with EFF. "That understanding of Smith goes beyond just the NSA context, and implicates other forms of electronic surveillance, such as collection of cell site records and Internet metadata."


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