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December 17th, 2013
The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Judge Questions Legality of N.S.A. Phone Records,” represents, at last, a comeuppance for the government regarding its collection of meta data from phone calls for every single American.
The judge, Richard J. Leon of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, describes the N.S.A. program as almost “Orwellian” in its scope and questioned the only legal precedent on the government’s behalf, Smith vs. Maryland, as a 34-year-old case no longer applicable to today’s technology.
Indeed, in 1979, phones did not play such a central role in our everyday lives, and the cell phone did not even exist. And as Judge Leon correctly noted, we did not then have the ability to collect meta data for every single American conversation.
The Judge also questioned the efficacy of the program and said there was no evidence of it making the difference in a single terrorist action. And it is also true that previous rulings affirming the collection of meta data were made by a secret court with no one present to provide an opposing opinion.
The ACLU and Edward Snowden, who was the first to reveal this program and now sits stranded in Russia as a result, both praised Leon’s ruling. And it also gives some hope to all of us who are relying on the checks and balances in our system to check executive power.
President Obama’s base also stands firmly behind the decision, and it would be a great turnaround from business as usual if he should change his mind and provide legislative suggestions to Congress to stop the meta data collection in a responsible way.
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