Lawmakers applaud court ruling against NSA

Critics of the National Security Agency on Capitol Hill are applauding Monday's court decision that the agency's sweeping collection of records on all U.S. phone calls is likely unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the data collection is likely an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment, but he put his order to end the program on hold.

Lawmakers argue that the ruling shows the need for their legislation to limit the NSA's power.

"The slow trickle of revelations that began in June about NSA spying have exposed the most intrusive and secretive programs in American history," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the House author of the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA's bulk phone data collection.

"I am encouraged by the district court’s ruling. It will add to the growing momentum behind the USA FREEDOM Act, which has garnered support from a large, diverse bloc of my colleagues and the business community," he said.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDem senator mocks Pruitt over alleged security threats: 'Nobody even knows who you are' Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’ Protesters hold up 'fire him' signs behind Pruitt during hearing MORE (D-Vt.), the Senate author of the USA Freedom Act, noted that the people who sued the NSA were able to participate in an "adversarial process" in the federal district court. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court secretly authorized the phone data program several years ago based only on arguments from the government. 

“Americans deserve an open and transparent debate about the constitutionality, efficacy, and appropriateness of the government’s dragnet collection programs," Leahy said.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSarah Sanders: ‘Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration’ Kentucky Dems look to vault themselves in deep-red district Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade MORE (R-Ky.) said the decision is an "important first step" toward having the constitutionality of the program determined in the regular court system.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Facebook, Google struggle to block terrorist content | Cambridge Analytica declares bankruptcy in US | Company exposed phone location data | Apple starts paying back taxes to Ireland Firm exposes cell phone location data on US customers Overnight Finance: Watchdog weighs probe into handling of Cohen bank records | Immigration fight threatens farm bill | House panel rebukes Trump on ZTE | Trump raises doubts about trade deal with China MORE (D-Ore.), a privacy advocate and longtime critic of the NSA, said the ruling "hits the nail on the head."

He applauded Leon for dismissing a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, Smith v. Maryland, which held that the Fourth Amendment does not protect "metadata" such as phone numbers, call times and call durations. 

Wyden argued that Leon was right to express doubts about the effectiveness of the programs in combatting terrorism.

"Protecting the country from terrorism is obviously vitally important but the government can do this without collecting the phone records of massive numbers of law-abiding men, women and children,” Wyden said.

Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Democratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups MORE (D-Colo.), who has worked with Wyden on the Intelligence Committee to limit the NSA's power, said the ruling underscores his argument that the program "conflicts with Americans' privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution and has failed to make us safer."

"We can protect our national security without trampling our constitutional liberties," Udall said.

But in order to pass legislation, the lawmakers will have to battle the NSA's defenders on Capitol Hill — led by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDOJ, Trump reach deal on expanded Russia review Congress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus MORE (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).