Is Edward Snowden looking to decamp from Russia to Brazil? He strongly implies as much in an open letter today, published at Folha. "I have expressed my willingness to assist wherever appropriate and lawful," he writes, "but unfortunately the United States government has worked hard to limit my ability to do so. … Until a country grants permanent political asylum, the US government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak." The rest of the letter is spent decrying NSA activities, which he says is a "culture of indiscriminate worldwide surveillance" that is "collapsing."
Yesterday, Snowden heartily endorsed a scathing ruling from US District Judge Richard Leon that declared the NSA's phone data collection "almost Orwellian" and likely unconstitutional. Today, the New York Times has a profile on Leon, depicting him as a conservative firebrand who "does not seem bound by judicial sobriety." He has a long history of criticizing the federal government, most notably in a 2008 case in which he ordered the release of five Guantanamo Bay detainees, saying they were being held illegally on insufficient evidence. In 2005, however, he sided with the administration in saying the detainees had no right to habeas corpus. Other stories spilling out of the ruling today:
- As heralded as the ruling has been, it's only the starting gun in a case that will probably wind up at the Supreme Court, the AP observes.
- A Justice Department spokesman says they're not worried about the ultimate outcome of that process. "We believe the program is constitutional as previous judges have found," he said.
- Leon's ruling effectively runs against a 1979 Supreme Court decision saying that Americans can't expect privacy about who they're calling, because they're giving that information to the phone company, the Wall Street Journal explains. Leon argued that "present day circumstances" had "become so thoroughly unlike those considered by the Supreme Court thirty-four years ago" that the precedent was moot.
- The case that Leon was ruling on is itself somewhat unusual; plaintiff Larry Klayman, a conservative activist, said the government had sent strange text messages to his clients on his behalf, saying, "I think they are messing with me." He also tried to expand his lawsuit into a class action on behalf of all Americans, the New York Times reports.