A US judge has ruled that the NSA's wholesale gathering of internet traffic, emails and phone calls is likely to be in breach of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against "unreasonable searches".
The ruling found that despite the NSA's claims to the contrary, there was an "utter lack of evidence that a terrorist attack has ever been prevented" as a result of the data-collection tactics employed.
In his closing statement, Judge Richard Leon described the NSA's tactics as "Orwellian". He added: "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."
Claimants in the case, which has now been put on hold pending appeal from the US government, are lawyer Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, the father of a cryptologist killed in Afghanistan in 2011. If the case is upheld it will be a landmark ruling and a significant setback for the NSA.
Judge Leon said he expected the process to take six months, during which the government should prepare its defence. "Suffice it to say, requesting further time to comply with this order months from now will not be well received and could result in collateral sanctions," he warned.
Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who put the NSA's tactics into the limelight over the summer, released a rare statement to The New York Times. "Today, a secret program authorised by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights," he said. "It is the first of many."
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