Something is seriously wrong when Russian courts are more protective of civil liberties than those in the USA. But that’s the case with metadata collection, at least on paper. Obama excused blanket phone surveillance because it only collected “so-called metadata”, so spooks did not need to “go back to a federal judge”. Andrei Soldatov, surely the best-informed journalist covering the Russian intelligence services, reports that they are more limited:
When Russia’s intelligence agencies collect metadata without a court order, it violates Russian laws. In September 2012, the country’s Supreme Court issued an interpretation stating that both a subscriber’s phone number and the connections between subscribers are confidential elements of phone conversations. The court ruled that “obtaining such information is an invasion of privacy and abridges citizens’ constitutional right to confidential telephone conversations” and that “agencies performing operational and search activities must obtain a court order to gain access to such information.”
Russian spooks doubtless dodge such legal bounds with the same fluidity as their American counterparts. Still, it is striking that the US government has sunk so low as to be seriously comparable to Russia.