NSA Data Collection Program Illegal, Appeals Court Says
On Thursday, a federal appeals court has declared National Security Agency’s telephone metadata collection program, a part of which involves phone records being gathered daily, illegal under the Patriot Act.
A three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said in a 97-page decision that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act cannot be interpreted to collect domestic calling records.
The provision of the act that allows the agency to gather phone records expires June 1, and it is being debated whether the authority should be renewed or not. The data collection programs were first implemented following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
The programs have been previously renewed by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
First brought into action on October 2001, these programs, under which the NSA was given the authority to run surveillance and collect phone records, disobeyed statutory limits on government spying, for locating terrorist cells, as reported by The New York Times.
The details of the program were unveiled by former government contractor Edward J. Snowden, who leaked documents providing evidence of data collection on June 2013.
The program has also been approved several times by judges in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, responsible for managing national security surveillance.
However, Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch ruled against the motion. Judge Lynch said that Section 2015 could not be interpreted to allow the NSA to collect a “staggering” amount of phone records.
He said in the 97-page ruling, “Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans.
“We would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language. There is no evidence of such a debate.”
He further added that Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.
“We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”
According to Reuters, the decision passed on Thursday contradicts a December 2013 ruling wherein the NSA program was deemed legal by US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan. The case was returned to him for further review.
ACLU lawyer Alex Abdo supported Judge Lynch’s decision.
Abdo said, “Mass surveillance does not make us any safer, and it is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy necessary in a free society.”
Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law American University, Washington College of Law and an analyst for CNN, said, “This is a landmark ruling and a critically important decision. What it means going forward depends entirely on Congress, because this provision was set to expire June 1st anyway.”
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Tags:Appeals Courtdata collection programsEdward J. SnowdenForeign Intelligence Surveillance CourtNational Security AgencyNSANSA data collection programPatriot ActSection 215Sept 11 2001 terror attackstelephone metadata collection program