WASHINGTON – District of Columbia Circuit Judge Richard Leon said Monday he will decide within two weeks whether to dismiss claims that the National Security Agency’s PRISIM program violated the First and Fifth Amendments.
Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, is suing the federal government in the wake of last summer’s revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the agency was collecting information about the time, place and participants of millions of Internet and phone conversations in the U.S. with assistance from the companies that handled these calls.
Klayman, a former Justice Department attorney, has previously sued President Bill Clinton, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
On Dec. 16, 2013, Leon ruled that the NSA’s PRISM program likely violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection from illegal search and seizure and that previous Supreme Court rulings on communication surveillance were out of touch with 21st century technology.
“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 analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Leon ruled.
“The ubiquity of phones has dramatically altered the quantity of information that is now available and, more importantly, what that information can tell the Government about people’s lives. I cannot possibly navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones.”
Though he called the program “almost Orwellian,” Leon issued a six-month stay on an injunction so the federal government could appeal his ruling. The judge also said the unprecedented questions of constitutionality and potential national security implications the case raises made him hesitant to call for PRISM’s immediate end.
The federal government has since filed an appeal of that ruling. Marcia Berman, senior trial counsel for the Department of Justice, claimed Monday that oral arguments on the First and Fifth Amendment claims would overlap with and complicate the Fourth Amendment appeal.
Leon asked the government for clarification before deciding whether to proceed with the oral arguments on the First and Fifth Amendment issues. He said a decision could come within the next two weeks.
Klayman pushed for the circuit court to begin the discovery phase of the trial and petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the constitutional arguments of the case with a writ of certiorari.
“When constitutional rights are violated even for one minute, they are violated one minute too long,” Klayman said.
Berman claimed that discovery could expose classified information and pose a significant national security threat. Klayman countered that there are ways of beginning the process without running that risk.
“We don’t want to compromise national security,” Klayman said. “That’s never what this case was about.”