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Supreme Court passes on NSA surveillance case

Supreme Court declines an early look at a challenge to the NSA's bulk collection of American's phone records -- but that doesn't mean it won't hear the case down the road.

Declan McCullagh/CNET

The US Supreme Court won't allow a challenge to the National Security Agency's phone snooping skip steps and come straight to its doorstep. Instead, the case will have to work its way through the appeals process.

Last year, a federal district court judge ruled that the NSA's bulk collection of phone record metadata on all US citizens likely violates a constitutional ban on unreasonable searches. The case's plaintiffs, led by attorney and activist Larry Klayman, requested that the Supreme Court hear the case immediately and make a final ruling.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case early, essentially tossing it back to lower courts.

The case, Klayman vs. Obama, followed revelations from documents leaked last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that revealed the intelligence agency's bulk collection of phone metadata, a program it legally justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

In a 60-page ruling on the matter in December, US District Court Judge Richard Leon said the "bulk collection and querying of phone record metadata" could have violated the Fourth Amendment and "certainly does violate a reasonable expectation of privacy." Despite the issues taken with the collection, Judge Leon said that the US government should be allowed to appeal the decision to the US Court of Appeals.

President Obama has since proposed legislation to reform the program, which would see phone companies hold onto the records of their customers and force government agencies to obtain a court order to access records.

The Supreme Court's move on Monday requires that Klayman and his fellow plaintiffs work their way through the appeals process before making a move for the Supreme Court. At that time, the Supreme Court will again decide whether it'll hear the case or not.

CNET has contacted Klayman for comment on the Supreme Court's decision. We will update this story when we have more information.