Court Grants, then Stays, Preliminary Injunction in Case Alleging that NSA Metadata Collection Violates Fourth Amendment

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit claiming that the National Security Agency (NSA) violated the Fourth Amendment through its recently-disclosed practice of collecting data regarding U.S. citizens’ domestic telephone and internet activity. Klayman v. Obama, No. 13-0851, mem. op. (D.D.C., Dec. 16, 2013). The plaintiffs, the court found, have standing to challenge the NSA’s “bulk collection and querying of phone record metadata,” id. at 5, and meet the other criteria for a preliminary injunction on some of their claims. The judge stayed enforcement of the injunction, however, pending an appeal by the federal government.

During the summer of 2013, the British newspaper The Guardian reported on several leaks of classified information regarding surveillance activities by the NSA and other government agencies. Some of these activities involved collection of metadata from telephone and internet activity. Metadata might include the telephone numbers involved in a call and the length of the call, but does not include any information about what the participants in the call discussed. This collection activity generally occurred with the cooperation of private telecommunications and internet companies.

The Klayman lawsuit–actually two lawsuits filed in June 2013–alleged in part that the bulk collection of American citizens’ metadata within the U.S. violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches. The defendants include government officials and agencies like President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice, and the NSA; private companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Skype, and Google; and executives of those companies like Steve Ballmer and Mark Zuckerberg.

The preliminary injunction only applies to the government defendants, and is only based on the claims of two of the five plaintiffs. It only covers the causes of action for alleged constitutional violations. The court embarked on an extensive review of Supreme Court precedent, and determined that the Fourth Amendment may apply to bulk telecommunications metadata collection.

The primary case cited by the government in defense of the program was Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), which held that a pen register used to capture the number dialed on a particular phone was not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court concluded that since individuals voluntarily transmit telephone numbers to the phone company, they do not have a “legitimate expectation of privacy” in the numbers they dial. Id. at 745-46.

The Klayman court noted the differences between the technology involved in Smith and that in use by the government today, as well as the fact that police only used the pen register for a few days for a specific investigation. Klayman, mem. op. at 47. Circumstances have changed enough since the Smith era, the court held, that it no longer applies as precedent. Id. at 45. It compared the present case to U.S. v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012), in which the Supreme Court held that ongoing warrantless GPS surveillance violated an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

A person facing charges for an alleged criminal offense should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney, who can help them understand their rights, guide them through the process, and work to ensure that police, prosecutors, and courts respect their Constitutional and procedural rights. Criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has represented defendants in west Texas for over twenty years. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Police Test New Methods of GPS Tracking, Leaving Questions of How Much Surveillance the Fourth Amendment Allows, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 6, 2013
Marijuana Smell Not Enough to Justify Warrantless Entry into Home, According to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 17, 2013
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Affirms Finding that Police Lacked Probable Cause to Search Backyard Without Warrant, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 24, 2013

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