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Taking the NSA to Court

Larry Klayman is a pain in the neck—although that isn’t necessarily the part of the anatomy I’m thinking of usually whenever he contacts me. The founder of such conservative American groups as Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, Klayman, a lawyer, has a way of intruding into the consciousness of a nation with often unusual cases and causes. I’m thinking for instance of the time he represented an ensemble dancer in the Broadway show Movin’ Out who wanted $100 million; she said she’d been fired unreasonably because of her breast size, which was evidently too large for show biz, or at least for the Billy Joel musical. There’s a first for you …

Klayman called me on that one, suggesting it was a great story. Personally, I didn’t think it was.

Now I have to apologize. From this day forward I don’t care who Klayman takes on or what he’s suing about—the man has my support forever and I will give his phone calls, all of them, the attention they deserve. It was Klayman, representing himself (naturally) and a co-plaintiff, the father of an NSA cryptologist killed in Afghanistan, who went before a US federal judge armed with the Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution: the one that nominally protects US citizens from unreasonable searches.

As it turns out, the US government performed quite a number of such subterranean, undisclosed, unreasonable searches, ones its citizens knew nothing about until Edward Snowden, a former US intelligence analyst, came along and told everybody. Subterranean and undisclosed was the way the US government wanted things for years, and although there was a good deal of fuss about these revelations when they first erupted, it wasn’t nearly enough.

The US possesses billions of phone records known as “metadata,” it turns out: quite a few US citizens along with many noncitizens (cf. Angela Merkel and also the general population of Brazil) have been wondering in a fairly ill-tempered way just how this mass collection fits in with the privacy considerations of non-terrorists and non-criminals.

As it turns out, it doesn’t fit in at all, according to the US federal judge Richard Leon, who completely agrees with Klayman. “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion,’” he wrote of the metadata sweep, which he called, unsurprisingly, “almost Orwellian.” The “collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen … without prior judicial approval,” is not, the judge added, what the founders of the US had in mind.

Now Klayman, being Klayman, had other grievances as well. For example, he apparently told Judge Leon during argument that the NSA was “messing with me.” It was an allegation on which the judge commented wryly: “Unfortunately for plaintiffs, none of these unusual occurrences or instances of being ‘messed with’ have anything to do with the question of whether the NSA has ever queried or analyzed their telephony metadata.”

But you know what? In this instance I’m inclined to agree with Klayman. The two issues—metadata collection and government harassment—might well be connected. If Klayman was indeed being messed with, it’s possible it had a lot to do with the analysis and collection of his phone calls and e-mails. In his long career, after all, Klayman has sued Bill Clinton (numerous times), Dick Cheney, Fidel Castro, OPEC—and for good measure he also insisted that George W. Bush’s administration possibly knew in advance about the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington, DC.

I’m not saying any of these lawsuits or proclamations had a speck of merit: I’m just saying what I mentioned right off the bat.

Larry Klayman is a pain in the neck.

Thank God.

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