Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Judge rejects suit but questions NSA surveillance

SPOKANE, Wash. — A federal judge raised privacy questions while dismissing a lawsuit filed by an Idaho woman against President Barack Obama regarding the collection of cellphone information by the National Security Agency.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled Tuesday in Boise, Idaho, that under U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the NSA’s collection of such data doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches.

Winmill noted, however, that a judge considering a separate case filed in Washington, D.C., found otherwise and might reach the high court. That ruling was stayed pending appeal.

In the decision last year, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon wrote that earlier court cases were from an era before cellphones, and that people have an entirely different relationship with telephones now.

“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,” Leon wrote then.

In his ruling Tuesday, 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 by Anna J. Smith of Coeur d’Alene. Her attorneys were state Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Smith’s husband, Peter J. Smith IV.

Malek said Smith plans to appeal Winmill’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The judge basically said ‘you need to appeal this case,'” Malek said Wednesday. “It’s a pretty clear mandate that we need to continue.”

Smith, a nurse, assumed she was being monitored because she had a Verizon cellphone, and because the calls of vast numbers of Americans were collected, Malek said.

The NSA has said it collects the phone numbers of calls made and received and how long a call lasts. It has said it does not monitor the contents of a call.

Smith sued the president, director of national intelligence, NSA director, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

She contended that her cellphone was her primary means of communication with family, friends, doctor and others, and that her communications were none of the government’s business.

Winmill found that Smith had standing to sue but couldn’t prevail under current court precedent.

He noted that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor seems particularly inclined to change federal law, saying that she has written that present law is ill-suited to the digital age.