by Franklin Lamb, Beirut
The answer to this question is being pondered across America in light to the two seeming mutually contradictory US Federal Court decisions handed down this month from Courts in Washington DC and New York.
The legal issue of what rights are left to American citizens that can prevent governmental intrusions into their privacy and also governmental invasions using heavy handed searches and seizures following the launching of the Bush administrations ‘war of terrorism’ has gained new impetus following disclosures by former National Security Agency analyst turned whistle blower, Edward Snowden. Without Snowden’s patriotic leaks, no legal challenge could have been brought to the NSA practices.
Now that two US Federal District Courts, with identical powers under the US Constitution have seemingly reached opposite results on the same legal issue involving the right of the NSA to conduct ‘metadata’ searches and store the information of scores of millions of unknowing Americans the issue is likely going to have to be decided by the US Supreme Court. As predicted, appeals were immediately filed from the Trial Courts decision in both cases.
Initially, civil libertarians were encouraged earlier this month when in light of the Snowden revelations of massive US government spying on Americans and millions of foreigners, Federal Description: Judge Richard Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on 12/16/13 that the bulk collection by the National Security Agency of cell phone data (everyone you called, when you called them and where you were when you called them) of Americans violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and is “Orwellian”.
Judge Leon explained that we now use our smartphones for a wide variety of personal activities in which we have the expectation of privacy, and probably we have more expectation of privacy from our phones now than we did from a pay phone in the 1980s. He made the point that cell phones today includes a citizens, location when one makes a call and becomes a GPS made the call, functioning essentially as a GPS.
He wrote, “It’s one thing to say that people expect phone companies to occasionally provide information to law enforcement; it is quite another to suggest that our citizens expect all phone companies to operate what is effectively a joint intelligence-gathering operation with the Government.”
Judge Leon focused on whether the NSA massive surveillance violated the 4th Amendment which provides: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”