A federal judge’s opinion this week that the National Security Agency’s
massive collection of cellphone records appears to be unconstitutional stemmed from a lawsuit initiated by a Pennsylvania man.
Monday’s lengthy, 68-page opinion by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, in which the jurist referred to the controversial NSA program as bordering on “Orwellian,” came in response to two lawsuits that were filed by Larry Klayman, an attorney with the libertarian group Freedom Watch who formerly served as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department.
In his decision, Leon, who sits on the federal bench in the District of Columbia, granted a request by Klayman and his client, Charles Strange, for an injunction barring the government from collecting, as part of the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program, any such records associated with the Verizon accounts of the plaintiffs.
Klayman, who filed the litigation, was also a plaintiff in one of the two suits.
Leon’s injunction also orders the government to destroy any such metadata currently in its possession.
The judge, meanwhile, issued a stay of his own ruling pending an anticipated appeal by the executive branch.
Leon wrote that the appeals process is likely to play out during the next six months.
The litigation arose from the leaks of classified material by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
In the first of the two lawsuits, Strange, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, claimed that he was targeted by the NSA because he spoke out against government following the death of his son, Michael Strange, an NSA cryptologist technician and support personnel for Navy SEAL Team VI who was killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011.
Strange and Klayman sued the Obama administration, various government officials, and representatives from telecommunications and Internet companies, alleging constitutional violations in the collection of the bulk phone records.
The men argued that the government exceeded its authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes intelligence agencies to obtain certain electronic information through secret court approval.
In a statement Monday, Klayman, the attorney representing Strange, called the matter “the most significant case in the history of any litigation against the government.”
In his opinion, the judge wrote that, “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 it and analyzing it without judicial approval.”
Strange, of Philadelphia’s Torresdale neighborhood, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he hopes, through his case, to “get answers for the people of America.”
Klayman, Strange’s attorney, told the paper that his client is an “American hero.”
“The American people have to take their hat off to Judge Leon,” Klayman was quoted as saying. “They’ve been looking for someone to protect them from the decisions of the other two branches of government.”
In a statement on his Freedom Watch website, Klayman said he believed all along that Leon would grant the request for a preliminary injunction.
“What we had here was the greatest violation of constitutional rights in American history,” he stated. “I applaud the judge for his courage, and for taking a stand against the tyranny and abuses of the other two branches of government. The judge is an American hero.”
Klayman, who said citizens should not have to continue living in a “KGB-like police state,” asked that more judges fulfill their oath of office and step forward to “check the gross abuses of the ruling establishment.”