Richard Leon Halts the Dragnet for One Plaintiff

Judge Richard Leon has just issued an injunction on the NSA’s collection of the phone metadata of J.J. Little and his lawfirm. Little got added as a plaintiff to Larry Klayman’s suit (in which Leon earlier found the program unconstitutional but stayed his own injunction) so as to have a Verizon Business Services customer who could be certain his phone records had been collected.

The order will undoubtedly set off a bit of a scramble, not because pulling Little’s phone records really presents any difficulty for the NSA (they already defeat list so many records it’s clear they have the ability to at least make those records inaccessible to a search, though they don’t want to explain the full application of that process; hopefully this ruling will lead to more candor on this point). Rather, the NSA will want to ensure this program has constitutional sanction because it also collects so many other records of Americans (in his book, for example, Charlie Savage confirmed my earlier analysis that the Internet dragnet moved, in part, overseas rather than being shut down). And the DC Circuit is likely to respond to quickly override Leon.

That said, Leon’s order is most interesting for its analysis of the government’s claim it can carry out this program because of a Special Need. In it, he repeats efficacy arguments he made in his earlier ruling: rather than present any new evidence that the program has been useful, it has instead just said the threat environment requires it. But he also notes that this special need, unlike that of, say, a TSA check, does not have a deterrence effect. That’s interesting because the government’s own secrecy about how many calls are collected would make any deterrence uncertain (indeed, terrorists might be expected to move communications to the Internet, believing falsely that attracts less attention).

As I said, the DC Circuit is likely to overturn this. But it will give the government a few days of headaches until that point.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

1 reply
  1. What Constitution? says:

    Hooray! Hooray for the Constitution! Hooray for Judge Leon!

    It hasn’t been that often there’s been much to celebrate on this front, so HOORAY!

    How do we go about having a bust of Judge Leon placed in the Capitol next month instead of a bust of Dick Cheney?

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