Latest posts by Alvin Bryan (see all)
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The ACLU and the EFF have been fighting a case against mass surveillance. The case is called Klayman versus Obama. It argues that phone metadata should be protected with full Fourth Amendment powers.
Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch has been at the forefront of mass surveillance protests. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was gathering phone metadata from Verizon customers. The flagship case against mass phone metadata collection that followed is an important step for phone metadata protection in the US. Judge Richard Leon ruled in December 2013 that the phone metadata gathering program was probably unconstitutional. The case is now with the Court of Appeals in the DC circuit. The US government has long defended mass surveillance for national security reasons. But it is a losing battle.
Metadata is Not Just Metadata
The ACLU and the EFF have just filed an amicus brief in the case against phone metadata collection. The NSA has long argued that there is no danger to NSA spying because they only collect phone metadata. But privacy advocates have proved that phone metadata is significant because it can put people’s privacy at risk. The government says that phone metadata does not reveal personal details like the content of phone calls does. But the ACLU and the EFF have presented new case law and research to back up their claims that phone metadata is possibly even more sensitive. When it is gathered over long periods and in bulk, phone metadata can expose a lot.
Andrew Crocker from the EFF says that phone metadata can show a person’s relationships, medical conditions, religious and political associations, and particulars like gun ownership. He stresses that the collection of phone metadata must be protected by full Fourth Amendment rights because of this. The Fourth protects people against warrantless searches, and phone metadata must be included under this. There should be no contest here when the president has already admitted that national security does not have to come at the huge cost of violating privacy.
Mass Collection of Phone Metadata is Not Legal
The Klayman versus Obama brief points out several precedents that show that the mass collection of phone metadata is not legal. First off, says Alex Abdo of the ACLU, mass surveillance has always been illegal. The Constitution was written with protections against excessive search and seizure of people’s data. Second, the third-party doctrine (Smith v. Maryland, 1979) that the government has hidden behind does not apply. The government moved from targeted surveillance to mass surveillance, including that of phone metadata. Third, there have been several court decisions since then in favor of demanding search warrants before obtaining electronic data like phone metadata. Two of these are the 2012 United States versus Jones, and the 2014 Riley versus California Supreme Court decisions.