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Capitol Hill Reacts to Judge’s NSA Phone Surveillance Ruling

Alan Crosthwaite/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a defender of the National Security Agency’s data collection efforts, said Monday she was surprised by a federal judge’s ruling that the agency’s program of collecting the phone records of millions of Americans may be unconstitutional.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said the ruling “reminds the federal government that it is not above the law.”

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled in favor of two challengers to the NSA surveillance program, finding that they will likely succeed in showing that the bulk collection program violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Leon issued a preliminary injunction, barring the NSA from collecting records of Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, who challenged the program that collects telephone metadata of millions of citizens.  Leon then stayed his order, pending an appeal by the federal government.

“To me, this is a big surprise,” Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Monday.

Feinstein said that while she believes it’s healthy to have court oversight, the ruling is “surprising because we thought we were depending on the United States Supreme Court law set in 1979 and carried out by 15 individual district court judges of the FISA court who authorized this every 90 days and have never to the best of my knowledge have said it’s unconstitutional.”

Paul issued a statement saying the decision “represents an important first step in having the constitutionality of government surveillance programs decided in the regular court system rather than a secret court where only one side is presented.”

He added, “This ruling reminds the Federal government that it is not above the law.”

Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall says the ruling underscores what he’s been saying for years: “The bulk collection of Americans' phone records conflicts with Americans' privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution and has failed to make us safer.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, said in a statement that the ruling “is an important first step toward reining in this agency but we must go further.  I will be working as hard as I can to pass the strongest legislation possible to end the abuses by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.”

The Department of Justice says it is reviewing the court ruling.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that President Obama received an independent review of the NSA's policies on Friday, and over the next several weeks the administration will be reviewing the group’s more than 40 recommendations.

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