Udall praises ruling that NSA phone program is likely unconstitutional


Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, during a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee last year.

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DENVER — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall applauded a federal judge’s ruling Monday that the National Security Agency program which collects information on nearly all telephone calls made to, from or within the United States is likely to be unconstitutional.

“The ruling underscores what I have argued for years,” Udall said. “The bulk collection of Americans’ phone records conflicts with Americans’ privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution and has failed to make us safer.

“We can protect our national security without trampling our constitutional liberties. This court ruling only underscores the urgent need for Congress to act and pass my bipartisan bill to ensure the NSA focuses on terrorists and spies — and not innocent Americans.”

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found that the program appears to run afoul of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. He also said the Justice Department had failed to demonstrate that collecting the so-called metadata had helped to head off terrorist attacks.

“Plaintiffs have a very significant expectation of privacy in an aggregated collection of their telephone metadata covering the last five years, and the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program significantly intrudes on that expectation,” wrote Leon.

“I have significant doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.”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,” Leon added.

No lawmakers have been more critical of the NSA’s program than Udall and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, both Democrats, who have called on the agency to come clean with the public about its domestic spying programs and to dial it back.

The two lawmakers have also introduced legislation to rein in the NSA’s dragnet collection of phone records, provide safeguards for warrantless wiretapping under the FISA Amendments Act, and create a constitutional advocate to protect privacy rights in cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The bill also would expand safeguards on the use of national security letters and impose new and shorter sunset periods on controversial surveillance authorities.

Leon’s decision is the first legal setback for the NSA’s spying program since it was disclosed in June due to leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Just on Sunday, the CBS news magazine show “60 Minutes” reported a long piece from inside the agency that many journalists have criticized as a propaganda piece for the NSA.

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