The U.S. district court ruling today that the National Security Agency's collection and scrutiny of bulk telephone records probably violates the Constitution offers hope that it's not too late to preserve personal privacy in the age of terrorism. But what the judge said should not really be surprising. It's a measure of how warped the public debate has become that his common-sense conclusions sound almost radical.
Here are the important passages in the opinion by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, who was appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush:
"The threshold issue that I must address, then, is whether plaintiffs have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is violated when the goverment indiscriminately collects their telephony metadata along with the metadata of hundreds of millions of other citizens without any particularized suspicion of wrongdoing, retains all that metadata for five years, and then queries, analyzes and investigates that data without prior judicial approval of the investigative targets."
"It's one thing to say that people expect phone companies to occasionally provide information to law enforcement; it is quite another to suggest that our citizens expect all phone companies to operate what is effectively a joint intelligence-gathering operation with the government."
"No court has ever recognized a special need sufficient to justify continuous, daily searches of virtually every American citizen without any particularized suspicion."
"The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA's bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature."
This decision does not offer the last words on the subject. But the plain, unflinching facts it presents are a bracing corrective to the deceptive claims of the Obama administration.
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