NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A federal judge has sided with the plaintiffs against the Obama administration in a suit claiming, in part, that the National Security Agency's broad collection of phone records from Verizon Communications (VZ) and others is unconstitutional, according to court documents.
Describing the program as employing "almost-Orwellian technology," U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon said the mass collection of data probably violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting unlawful search and seizure. He drew a sharp distinction between the current NSA program and the programs under consideration during important legal precedents. The most notable of those, Smith v. Maryland of 1979, involved the occasional handing over of phone numbers at the request of law enforcement.
"The question is this case can be more properly styled as follows: When do present-day circumstances . . . become so thoroughly unlike those considered by the Supreme Court thirty-four years ago that a precedent like Smith does not apply? The answer, unfortunately for the Government, is now."
The Smith case involved a hand-written register at the phone company which, at the request of law enforcement, was used to record numbers dialed from certain phones. By comparison, the NSA program may have included the collection of millions of phone records from individuals suspected of no crime.
"The notion that the Government could collect similar data on hundreds of millions of people and retain that for a five-year period, updating it with new data every day in perpetuity, was at best, in 1979, the stuff of science fiction," Judge Leon wrote.