The US National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records violates the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches, a judge has ruled. He put his decision on hold pending a nearly certain government appeal.
US District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington has granted a preliminary injunction sought by plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, concluding they were likely to prevail in their constitutional challenge.
Judge Leon ruled today that the two men are likely to be able to show that their privacy interests outweigh the government's interest in collecting the data. He says that means that massive collection programme is an unreasonable search under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.
The collection programme was disclosed by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden, provoking a heated debate over civil liberties.
The Obama administration has defended the programme as a crucial tool against terrorism.
But in his a 68-page, heavily footnoted opinion, judge Leon concluded that the government did not cite a single instance in which the programme "actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack".
"I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection programme as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism," he added.
He said he was staying his ruling pending appeal "in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues".