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Federal Judge Doubles Down On Expiring Phone Record Collection Program

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A federal judge called President Obama to immediately end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata, just weeks before the program is scheduled to end.

The decision from Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the program should be dismantled without waiting even a day because it has been almost two years since he first said the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was likely unconstitutional. Leon also disagreed with government claims that dragnet searches are constitutional as long as individuals’ records are not targeted.

“Although this Court appreciates the zealousness with which the Government seeks to present the citizens of our Nation, that same Government bears just as much responsibility to protect the individual liberties of those very citizens,” Leon wrote in his opinion.

Leon said his decision was likely the “last chapter” in the many judicial reviews of the particular phone metadata collection program, which was the first surveillance program revealed by journalists after former government contractor Edward Snowden. The program, created under the PATRIOT Act after 9/11, allowed the government to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk without warrants.

The program is set to expire on November 29 per the surveillance reform bill President Obama signed into law earlier this year. Under that bill, the telephone companies will instead hold the phone metadata, and the NSA will have to seek a court order for more targeted phone records when they need them.

Though Leon noted this would be the final judicial review of this particular NSA program, he wrote the questions raised about privacy and national security in the debate over the phone metadata program would continue.

“It will not, however, be the last chapter in the ongoing struggle to balance privacy rights and national security interests under our Constitution in an age of evolving technological wizardry,” Leon wrote.

Snowden, who recently joined Twitter, weighed in on the decision.

 

Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU legal director, said the ruling extends beyond the phone metadata collection program.

This program will likely still end on November 29, despite the judge’s ruling today. But as Leon said, the debate over national security and privacy is far from over.