A U.S. judge says the government's secret collection of telephone records from millions of Americans is likely unconstitutional.
In an effort to prevent another terrorist attack on the United States, the clandestine National Security Agency has for years been collecting a vast stockpile of the phone numbers people have called, as well as the dates and lengths of those calls, although not their content.
But on Monday, Judge Richard Leon in Washington said he "cannot imagine a more indiscriminate and arbitrary invasion" of peoples' privacy than the government's collection of such information without prior judicial approval. In a ruling on a court challenge to the surveillance, Leon said the spying "surely" infringes on the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against illegal searches.
Leon did not immediately enforce his ruling, giving the government a chance to appeal the decision to a higher court.
Former U.S. national security contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the telephone data collection earlier this year. It was among the first disclosures in the wave of leaks from the 1.7 million documents that the NSA says Snowden stole before fleeing first to Hong Kong and then to asylum in Russia.
Based on the leaks from the 30-year-old Snowden, Britain's Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post have published numerous details about the NSA surveillance. One NSA official assessing the damage of the Snowden leaks, Rick Ledgett, told the 60 Minutes news program Sunday that Snowden made off with "the keys to the kingdom."
U.S. officials have sought Snowden's extradition to stand trial on espionage charges, but Russia has refused.
At the White House Monday, a spokesman said Snowden should be returned to the United States as soon as possible to stand trial on charges of leaking classified information.