Court declares NSA’s domestic phone metadata collection program illegal

It took nearly two years, but three judges of a federal appeals court in New York have unanimously ruled that the bulk collection of telephone metadata associated with phone calls made by and to Americans, performed by the National Security Agency, should not have been approved based on section 215 of the Patriot Act, i.e. that the program is, in fact, illegal.

“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,” they noted.

Still, they haven’t issued an injunction for the program, preferring to leave that task to Congress. They also haven’t weighed in on the question of whether the program was unconstitutional or not.

“The ruling in ACLU v. Clapper is enormously significant,” noted ACLU’s Patrick Toomey and Noa Yachot. “The decision could also affect many other laws the government has stretched to the breaking point in order to justify dragnet collection of Americans’ sensitive information.”

They also pointed out that this decision’s significance extends far beyond the phone records program. “It implicates other mass spying programs that we have learned about in the past two years and — almost certainly ­— others that the government continues to conceal from the public,” they said, taking DEA’s call log collecting efforts and NSA’s email metadata program as examples.

They also noted that the Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is due to expire on June 1, could get renewed. And the USA FREEDOM Act, which was meant to end the bulk collection of Americans’ metadata and which has recently successfully passed the US House of Representatives, does not go far enough to prevent the US government from engaging in broad collection of innocent Americans’ private information.

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