Thursday 18 January 2018

Obama blow as phone-data collection branded Orwellian

Edward Snowden: whistleblower
Edward Snowden: whistleblower
U.S. President Barack Obama

Peter Foster Washington

The bulk of telephone records kept by the US's National Security Agency is likely to be unconstitutional, a senior judge ruled in a move that could prove a significant blow to the Obama administration.

The ruling by the Washington District court comes amid heightened debate over the legality of the collection of billions of telephone records that was exposed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the rogue security contractor.

Judge Richard Leon said that the NSA's collection of the data was "almost Orwellian" in its scope and probably violated the fourth amendment of the US Constitution that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

"I cannot imagine a more 'indiscriminate' and 'arbitrary invasion' than this systematic and hi-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analysing it without judicial approval," Judge Leon wrote in a 68-page judgment. The judge also expressed scepticism that the agency's collection of billions of phone records had done anything to prevent terrorism.

The judge put his decision on hold pending a near-certain appeal by the US government.

The court ruling came as the White House was due to receive the recommendations of a review panel ordered by Barack Obama into the practices of NSA surveillance, including the collection of metadata, which has alarmed many Americans.

The data is the so-called "haystack" of information that contains logs of time and location phone calls were made, but not recordings of the phone conversations themselves.

Although not yet made public, the 'New York Times 'reported last week that the Obama administration review panel was expected to advise that the collection of metadata should continue, but with greater oversight and restrictions on its usage. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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