US Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Leon ruled in favor of a group of privacy activists, ruling that the U.S. government’s wiretap program violates the Fourth Amendment.
The ruling came in a case filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sued the Justice Department in 2014 over its interpretation of the law and the NSA’s surveillance practices.
The EFF had been seeking to get the government to stop collecting and storing information about phone records of millions of Americans.
That was the impetus for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an organization that helped the EFF bring the lawsuit.
The court ruled on Friday that the government has the authority to conduct wiretaps without a warrant and does not need a warrant to listen in on a phone call, even though it does not have a “compelling national security interest” in doing so.
“The government has demonstrated that it has no compelling national security interests in conducting surveillance that violates the privacy rights of U.A.E. and others,” Leon wrote.
“This court therefore holds that the warrantless wiretap programs are not unconstitutional.”
He said the government cannot use the wiretap powers to spy on individuals without a valid reason.
“The Government cannot obtain a warrant from the courts to monitor an individual’s activities without first showing that its conduct will not be used for a national security purpose.”
The government had argued that the court’s decision would allow the NSA to conduct more “legitimate surveillance” without the court having to prove that the surveillance is needed for national security.
Leon rejected that argument, saying it would “open the door for government abuse of the NSA surveillance program.”