Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's 2013 ruling which found the NSA spying program to be "almost Orwellian." (Photo: File)

Federal Court Overturns Landmark Ruling on NSA Spying

New decision finds plaintiff in 2013 case did not have legal standing to challenge NSA, but impact remains unclear in wake of USA Freedom Act

Nadia Prupis

A federal court on Friday reversed a lower court's landmark 2013 decision that said the National Security Agency (NSA)'s spying operation was likely unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled (pdf) that the plaintiff in the case of Klayman v. Obama did not have the legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the program. Judge Richard Leon, who issued the 2013 ruling, called the NSA's operations "almost Orwellian."

Siding instead with the government, the three-judge panel on Friday argued that the plaintiff, conservative activist Larry Klayman, did not demonstrate the "concrete and particularized" injury required to sue the government because he could not prove that the dragnet vacuumed up his metadata in particular.

The impact of the ruling is unclear, coming as it does just months after U.S. Congress passed legislation to replace unlimited government spying with a more restricted program. A separate ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York earlier this year also found that the NSA's bulk surveillance program was illegal.

Observers of the case took special note that today's ruling made no judgement on the constitutionality of the bulk data collection program, only that Klayman's standing was deemed insufficient. As journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted, "Nothing about whether bulk collection is actually constitutional."

And ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer added, "Only one appeals court has ruled on merits. And it ruled program unlawful."

As of now, the case will be sent back to Leon for further proceedings. The Associated Press reports that Leon will "determine what further details about the program the government must provide."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Citing Donziger Case, Dems Raise Alarm About Use of Private Prosecutors in Federal Court

Private prosecutions of criminal contempt charges, said a pair of senators, "are highly unusual and can raise concerning questions of fundamental fairness in our criminal justice system."

Jessica Corbett ·


'About Damn Time': DOJ Says Treasury Department Must Give Trump's Tax Returns to Congress

"This case is now bigger even than Donald Trump's crimes. Neither the courts, nor the machinery of our government, exist to bodyguard a corrupt private citizen from transparency."

Jake Johnson ·


Digital Rights Groups Hail Record €746 Million Amazon Data Privacy Fine

La Quadrature du Net, whose complaint led to the Luxembourg fine, called the penalty a "first step," but said that "we need to remain vigilant" in the face of Amazon's ongoing violations.

Brett Wilkins ·


Science Museum Just Killed Its 'Own Reputation,' Says Greta Thunberg After Docs Reveal Gag Clause With Shell

"It essentially creates a 'chilling effect,' where museum staff must refrain from speaking openly about the reality of Shell's activities."

Andrea Germanos ·


With New Guaranteed Income Bill, Omar Proposes Sending Most People in US $1,200 Per Month

"We as a nation have the ability to make sure everyone has their basic needs like food, housing, and healthcare met," said the Minnesota Democrat.

Kenny Stancil ·