Yesterday, a federal judge issued an order holding that the National Security Agency’s tracking and collecting cellphone “metadata” without a warrant is “almost certainly” unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment.
The court issued a preliminary injunction against the NSA’s tracking cellphone information of the named plaintiffs. This is the first serious legal fallout from the disclosures by Edward Snowden last summer about widespread government surveillance programs, including the NSA’s Bulk Telephony Metadata Program. The order was stayed pending a likely appeal by the government. A similar case is pending in New York.
The decision also raises the question whether, if the decision is upheld on appeal, Snowden should be considered a whistleblower and given amnesty.
On that issue, the government’s position has not changed. According to the spokesman for the White House, “Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information and he faces felony charges here in the United States.” In contrast, Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported on the program in The Guardian based on documents provided by Snowden, called the decision “a vindication” of Snowden’s view that the public was entitled to know about the existence of government activity that raises such serious constitutional questions.
The debate is probably just getting started in earnest now that the courts are starting to weigh in.