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Federal judge says NSA data-gathering program is unconstitutional

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By Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent

(NBC) - A federal judge in Washington ruled Monday that the National Security Agency's program of gathering data on all telephone calls made in the United States is unconstitutional.

The judge, Richard Leon of U.S. District Court, an appointee of President George W. Bush, put his ruling on hold to allow the government to appeal.

The judge, a conservative, ruled that the NSA must remove from its records data related to two Americans who filed suit to stop the program.

Leon wrote that the government was justifying its counterterrorism program based on a 34-year-old Supreme Court precedent that has been eclipsed by "technological advances and a cell phone-centric lifestyle heretofore inconceivable."

That Supreme Court precedent held that Americans had no privacy interest to keep the government from accessing records stored by phone companies.

"The relationship between the police and the phone company" a generation ago, the judge said, "is nothing compared to the relationship that has apparently evolved over the last seven years between the government and telecom companies."

The plaintiffs brought their case one day after the British newspaper The Guardian published the first revelations from Edward Snowden, the former federal contractor who exposed details of massive government surveillance programs.

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