back to article HOLD THE PHONE, NSA! Judge bans 'Orwellian' US cellphone records slurp

A US federal judge has ordered the NSA to stop collecting the mobile phone records of innocent American citizens – and to destroy the files already amassed. Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in June that the controversy-hit spy agency harvests call metadata from telco giant Verizon – sparking a lawsuit by lawyer Larry …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many."

    Here you had the government saying how legal it was all along too. You couldn't trust them before and now it is proven that it was well founded in that untrust.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Consider the final records of the JFK assassination aren't legally due until October 2017 and then only if the President gives it his blessing. It's pretty obvious the government has had something to hide for a long time even if it's just the expected incompetence.

    2. dan1980

      Re: AC @ 23:44

      Unconstitutional is not the same as illegal.

      What the judicial system needs to do is go through each and every law that the government is using and render them unconstitutional, tearing up their 'get out of jail free' cards.

      1. Killraven

        Re: AC @ 23:44

        "Unconstitutional is not the same as illegal."

        When pertaining to government actions, unconstitutional is the ultimate illegal.

        The real follow-up to this though, if it stands after appeal upon appeal, needs to be the booting from office of all of those who made statements to the effect of "it's okay to violate the constitution if it's for our protection".

        1. dan1980

          Re: AC @ 23:44


          So, as the 'ultimate illegal', what is the 'ultimate punishment'? Nothing, that's what.

          Legislation is legally binding unless proven unconstitutional; if you break an unconstitutional law, you still get punished.

          A piece of legislation that is ruled as unconstitutional ceases to be legislation but while it is still on the books, it is law and breaking that law is illegal.

          Likewise, actions in accord with an unconstitutional law are legal and cannot be punished. You only have to look back to the civil rights movement to see this. In Plessy v. Ferguson, racial segregation laws were ruled to be constitutional. Later, in Brown, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was, in fact, unconstitutional, thus striking a fatal blow to the 'separate but equal' doctrine born from Plessy.

          The 13th and 14th Amendments hadn't changed or been superseded between 1986 and 1954 - for the purposes of racial segregation, it was the same constitution - so segregating public schools has been unconstitutional since the mid 1860s. But, prior to 1954, the practice was legal and post Brown, it was illegal.

          Downvote me again if you want (and are still paying attention) but illegal and unconstitutional are not the same thing.

          1. Someone Else Silver badge

            @ dan1980 Re: AC @ 23:44

            A piece of legislation that is ruled as unconstitutional ceases to be legislation but while it is still on the books, it is law and breaking that law is illegal.

            Ummm....not quite. Legislation that is ruled unconstitutional ceases to be legislation, period. One cannot break a non-law. (Yes, it is true that such rulings can have injunctions, stays, or other such legal machinations in place to delay their taking effect pending appeals, or to allow recalcitrant legislatures to replace the unconstitutional law with one that passes muster. Nonetheless, once a law is once-and-for-all ruled as unconstitutional, no one can "break" that law anymore.)

            1. dan1980

              Re: @ dan1980 AC @ 23:44

              I'm pretty sure you are agreeing with me - your post says:

              "Nonetheless, once a law is once-and-for-all ruled as unconstitutional, no one can "break" that law anymore."

              I might be jumping on your choice of words (I have no other indication of your thought or intent) but you say that no one can break that law anymore.

              Does that not imply that, prior to the ruling, one could break that law?

              After the ruling, the law would be stricken and be considered never to have existed. That's great from a legal perspective, and prevents lawyers using precedent from cases hinging on that law, but it doesn't undo any damage done to an individual under the now non-existent law. A person denied employment due to their skin color might be able to get a job after such a ruling, but would he get back-pay as if he had been employed? If he was injured while unemployed would he get his medical expenses paid for, after the fact, as if he did have health care under that employer?

              Should the prospective employer be punished after the law is ruled unconstitutional?

              If unconstitutional is the same as illegal then yes, the employer should be punished, retroactively, for the discrimination. But that's not the way it works because the two terms are not equivalent.

              I don't know if you were trying to or not, but you have not explained how unconstitutional is the same as illegal. If they differ in even a single regard, then they are not the same.

    3. BillG
      Big Brother

      "the most open and transparent [administration] in history"

      Anybody else think Obama will just ignore this, and will happily continue to collect data?

  2. MrMur

    "In the months ahead, other courts, no doubt, will wrestle to find the proper balance consistent with our constitutional system."

    Months? American courts? He's hopeful.

    1. Rukario

      He didn't say how many months (usually measured in multiples of twelve).

      1. KrisMac

        Months might not be far wrong....

        It took Hitler less than two months following the burning of the Reichstag to get the Enabling Act passed by the legislature - thereby effectively ending the Weimar Republic and installing himself as Dictator...

        I wonder what sort of shenanigans the US Legislature might get up to in order to sidestep this decision? After all having to stop spying on people and destroy all that potentially incriminating, (read intimidating), 'evidence' must constitute an enormous threat to US National Secuirty in some people's eyes - surely a bigger threat than the burning down of a single building in Berlin all those years ago....

      2. Blain Hamon

        Nov 20th, 1775 was the first case of the Continental Congress received intercepted letters. By 1776 it was already noted that there was abuses of this practice. So I'd put the number of months spent by the US Gov't to find the proper balance at about 2,845 and counting.

        Impressive considering that the US Constitution was ratified only 2,706 months ago.

  3. Charles Manning

    Criminals don't listen to what judges say.

    So who would expect the NSA, FBI, CIA or any other 3-letter entity to?

    The people in these organisations likely start out with a very well defined sense of right and wrong.

    Pretty soon they start to play in the grey area where sometimes you need to do some illegal stuff for the common good. This is easy to justify to yourself (a bit like speeding to get to a hospital, or telling tiny white lies to reduce conflict with the missus).

    After a while this gets to be normalised and the transgressions get bigger, still justified.

    After a few months or years, depending on the person and level of immersion, there comes a total detachment for society. The organisation comes before the public it is supposed to be serving. The organisation, and the people involved, feel they are above the law.

    When things have got to the last stage, a judge does not have any chance of reigning them in. The only way to restart is to throw the whole lot overboard and restart. Cancel all their funding and projects. Restart a new organisation, from the ground up and first principles, with none of the same people in play.

    1. Velv
      Big Brother

      Re: Criminals don't listen to what judges say.

      Where fiction blends into reality. Let's take an example of the film Swordfish.

      A secretive renegade counter-terrorist steals billions in US Government dirty money so he can track down and kill potential terrorists.

      Sounds good. The really interesting point to note is that the film was released in July 2001 - two months before the World Trade Center attack. Now tell me that this judge's decision will make a blind bit of difference to a Merkin with a cause...

  4. Neoc


    a Secretive organisation has been told by a judge to stop doing these secretive things...

    And how exactly will this be enforced? Instead of a spokesperson coming out and saying "we've complied" while behind the curtain it's business-as-usual?

  5. MrDamage Silver badge

    They'll happily delete the files

    While the judge is there watching. As soon as he's gone, they'll just reach for last nights backup tape.

  6. JeffyPoooh

    Must be a very clean judge...

    Even with all their monitoring, they had nothing on him.

    Amazing, especially considering the "Three Felonies A Day" rule.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...and in related news

    The US government starts offering public Cloud Services from its now-unused Utah Data Center.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: ...and in related news

      Read the small print very carefully...

  8. Anonymous Coward

    I like the part where he rejects the governments arguments about plaintiffs' standing

    The government literally said that they were collecting phone data on everyone, but that "everyone" did not necessarily include the plaintiffs. So the plaintiffs had no standing to litigate because they were never injured.

    The judges' response to that was that the government's arguments were "incredible" and that they "did not inspire confidence".

    I'll have to read the opinion when I have more time after Christmas. Based on the excerpts it sounds like a good read for someone like myself who believes in civil liberties.

    1. Schultz

      "everyone" did not necessarily include the plaintiffs

      To the US govt., the plaintiffs are just a bunch of nobodies. Clearly, nobody is not part of everybody.

      See, it's simple.

    2. scrubber

      Re: I like the part where he rejects the governments arguments about plaintiffs' standing

      "a good read for someone like myself who believes in civil liberties"

      Perhaps a book about Santa would be more appropriate this time of year. He's about as likely to show up in the US as civil liberties.

  9. Dick Emery

    Let them eat cake!

    I would like to see these assholes in these positions of power face a trail by jury. But no even if this was to pan out they would probably just get shifted to another position within government or become board members of some large finance company or some such. Oh I forget. They probably already are.

    Let's do the special handshake shall we?

  10. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Thumb Up

    Judge makes sensible decision

    Good for him. Whatever the difficulties in making the NSA comply, this judge made a good call

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and the NSA says:

    nah nah nah nah nah nah, speak to the Boss

    p.s. it will be interesting to see if the juicier bits of the judge's own phone conversations find their way to the media. After all, if Snowden's a leak, there might be others, still hidden (but we're working hard to locate them, honest!)

  12. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Of course, this will now have to go to appeal, and while that happens the NSA will be allowed to keep all of "its" data.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh but don't worry - backing up those huge amounts of data is impossible... Honestly!

      And did I say huge? I meant... useless non-identifying data on... not people at all...

  13. Tranzcoder

    LOL, It will take more than some judges order to stop the NSA, aint nobody here but us chicken masta.

  14. JustWondering

    I'll bet!

    Now that the NSA has been suitably chastened they will cease and desist from any further behavior of this sort. Sure they will. /sarc

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