By Jess McHugh @McHughJess email@example.com
August 28 2015 11:46 AM EDT
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An undated handout photo shows an aerial view of the National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. A 2013 verdict on NSA phone surveillance was reversed Friday. A court had previously ruled that the actions of the NSA were unlawful and granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the collection of raw data. Reuters/National Security Agency/Handout
A federal appeals court Friday reversed a 2013 decision in the Klayman v. Obama case, in which the National Security Agency's collection of metadata from the plaintiffs' cell phones was deemed a violation of their right to privacy. In Friday's decision, appellate judges reversed the ruling, saying the NSA's actions were in fact constitutional. The case will now be sent back to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon for further proceedings.
The appeals court's decision shocked many free-speech advocates, who regarded the earlier ruling as a victory for the First Amendment. In Klayman v. Obama, several individuals -- including Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch, and Charles and Mary Strange, parents of a U.S. serviceman killed in Afghanistan -- charged that the NSA was collecting large amounts of metadata from their cell phones, including numbers dialed and lengths of calls.
Leon ruled in 2013 that the actions of the NSA were unlawful and granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the collection of raw data. The U.S. government immediately filed an appeal, arguing that the governmental agency had the right to monitor its citizens, through powers granted by the Patriot Act, the post-Sept. 11 law that considerably broadened the nation's surveillance capabilities.
Plaintiffs contend that this bulk collection constitutes an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment; they seek injunctive and declaratory relief as well as damages. Third Amended Complaint Para 53, Klayman v. Obama, 13-cv-851 (D.D.C. Feb. 10, 2014), ECF No. 77. The district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the government from collecting plaintiffs' call records, but stayed its order pending appeal. Klayman v. Obama, 957 F. Supp. 2d 1, 44-45 (2013).
The Court reverses the judgment of the district court, and for the reasons stated in the opinions of Judge Brown and Judge Williams orders the case remanded to the district court. (Judge Sentelle dissents from the order of remand and would order the case dismissed.) The opinions of the judges appear below after a brief explanation of why the case is not moot.
The case, among similar revelations from whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, exposed the extent to which the U.S. had been spying on its own citizens. Journalists and activists alike have called the domestic spying "Orwellian," comparing it to George Orwell's famed novel "1984," in which "Big Brother" was always watching. [Snowden is a former NSA contractor who disclosed classified information on the Internet and is now in exile in Russia; Assange is editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, a website that has posted sensitive documents. Assange, an Austrailian who faces rape charges in Sweden and espionage charges in the U.S., claimed asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012. Sweden and Ecuador will begin talks next week regarding the rape charges, the Guardian reported.]
Given that Leon's initial verdict was reversed, the case is now remanded to him for further investigation.