Judge: Dragnet surveillance unconstitutional and ‘almost Orwellian’ in scope

A US district court yesterday ruled that the National Security Agency's mass collection of telephone data "almost certainly" violates the fourth amendment, in what is the biggest legal blow to the agency's dragnet surveillance program since the spying scandal broke in June.

The ruling is seen by many as a vindication for Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked the highly-classified files concerning the government's mass surveillance programs to journalists.

"I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts," said Snowden in a statement distributed by journalist Glenn Greenwald and published in the New York Times.

"Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many."

Monday's ruling described the mass collection of phone metadata as "unreasonable under the fourth amendment", which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in the 68-page ruling: "I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary' invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analysing it without prior judicial approval.

"Surely, such a program infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment."

Judge Leon predicted that the US government would appeal the ruling, in a legal battle that could last up to six months. However, he also warned the government that it should be ready for eventual defeat and to "take whatever steps necessary to prepare itself to comply with this order".

Speaking to MSNBC on Monday, Greenwald described the ruling as a "vindication of the constitutional rights of American citizens".

"This is a vindication for our fellow citizen Edward Snowden who came forward because he believed the government was violating our constitutional rights," he said.