Last Friday, a judge for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), denied a government motion to retain metadata that it collects as part of its dragnet approach. The judge cited that the government’s argument for permission to retain the data was “unpersuasive”.
The Court recognized that, while there is a need to protect and preserve data in litigations, the existing law is sufficient and there is no need to continue to expand the government’s ability to spy on Americans. It also pointed out that the dragnet approach that the government uses to collect this data almost certainly includes data pertaining to individuals who are not the subject of an investigation.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of decisions that are calling into question the spying practices that have been brought into light by the Edward Snowden document revelations. Toward the end of last year, another judge made a decision that calls into question the legitimacy of the government’s metadata program as a whole. The judge granted an injunction that would require the termination of the metadata program and the government to destroy all of the metadata it had collected.
Now the decision about whether to continue with metadata collection rests with the Appellate Court and whether it will join the lower courts’ decisions or not. It’s no surprise, the data collection practices of the government are controversial, but finding that judges, some of whom are on the surveillance and security courts, are taking stances against these practices is important.
Not just a year ago, these programs would have been charging forward, unchecked. Now that we are engaged in a national dialogue thanks to Mr. Snowden, it’s possible for the government to be opposed.