Federal judge rules against Idaho woman's NSA suit, but criticizes surveillance

(Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-ReviewJune 3, 2014 

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Coeur d’Alene woman against President Barack Obama over NSA collection of cell phone information, while raising questions about the practice.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, in his eight-page decision issued today, found that under current U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the NSA’s collection of cell-phone data doesn’t violate the 4th Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. However, he also noted that another case in Washington, D.C. found otherwise, and it may yet make its way to the higher court; that ruling was stayed pending appeal.

In that decision last year, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon wrote that earlier court cases were from the era before cell phones, and that “people in 2013 have an entirely different relationship with phones than they did 34 years ago.” Leon wrote, “Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic – a vibrant and constantly updating picture of the person’s life.”

Winmill wrote, “Judge Leon’s decision should serve as a template for a Supreme Court opinion. And it might yet.”

The Idaho case was filed on behalf of Anna J. Smith of Coeur d’Alene; her attorneys were Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and the woman’s husband, Peter J. Smith IV; they said they plan to appeal. She sued the president, the director of national intelligence, the NSA director, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Smith, a nurse, contended that her Verizon cell phone was her primary means of communication with family, friends, her employer, her children’s teacher, her doctor, her lawyer and others, and that her communications were none of the government’s business – and had nothing to do with terrorism. Winmill found that Smith had standing to sue, but couldn’t prevail under current court precedents.

Malek said Smith plans to appeal Winmill’s ruling to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. “We were very encouraged by the language” in the Idaho judge’s decision, he said. “We knew there wasn’t a lot of Supreme Court authority with regard to this sort of collection. … We’re excited to move on to the next stage.”

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