Federal Court Rules NSA’s Bulk Phone Data Collection Is Illegal

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On Thursday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of telephone metadata is illegal under current law. The three-judge panel argued that the program exceeds the authority granted under the Patriot Act, and the judges likened the collection of cell phone data to seizing bank records or other personal documents without a warrant.

The court did not tackle the question of whether or not the program violated the U.S. Constitution but instead argued that it was in violation of existing statutory law. This leaves open the possibility that Congress could still amend the law to permit the continuation of the program. However, an effort to extend the program could face a future constitutional challenge. In addition, new legislative action supporting indiscriminate surveillance could spark a public backlash against members of Congress up for re-election.

The court’s ruling strikes a blow to the executive branch’s authority, imposing limits on spying that both the Obama and Bush administrations defended as necessary to fight terrorism. However, civil libertarians on both the political left and right viewed the program as unconstitutional and intrusive. Critics of the program argued that it violated the civil rights of ordinary Americans who were not suspected of any illegal activity.

The case was made possible because details of the surveillance program were leaked by Edward Snowden two years ago. Those documents revealed that the NSA had forced Verizon to provide detailed records of domestic telephone calls made through Verizon’s network. That revelation gave Verizon customers legal standing to bring a case before the court.

Even one of the lead author’s of the Patriot Act, Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (WI-05), maintains that the law was never intended to permit such a far-reaching surveillance program. He recently stated:

I can say in no uncertain terms that Congress did not intend to allow the bulk collection of Americans’ records. The government’s overbroad collection is based on a blatant misreading of the law.

While it remains unclear what step Congress or the President will take next, the court’s ruling is at least a temporary victory for supporters of personal privacy and individual liberty. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has declared that the Orwellian bulk phone data collection program is illegal under current U.S. law. That decision should be applauded by ordinary Americans, left and right, because in a nation that values liberty, the metadata collection program simply doesn’t belong.


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7 Replies to “Federal Court Rules NSA’s Bulk Phone Data Collection Is Illegal”

  1. waiting for Clown Boy Rand to weigh in on judicial overreach and rationalize how this law trumps Libertarian values…

  2. The many secret agencies want to know everything about you but also they do not want you to speak.
    After having being kindly warned by agents one on a car plate Colorado 00764 and another on a bike with Hawaiian plate ISRAEL,
    After been denied access from Facebook, Yahoo, Disqus and today also another news organization objecting to the posting of simple comments I realized how difficult is to convey a message like Wavevolution.
    I only hope that the future may be brighter than what it looks today and may not the Beast in Texas and his subjects but the future generations everywhere have the last laugh.

  3. I’m sure this will be appealed to the Supreme Court. The Vatican Five may just overturn this. I hope not, but I don’t have a lot of faith in them.

  4. If the SCOTUS rule on this on appeal that may mean they might overturn Smith vs Maryland
    Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979),[1] was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the installation and use of the pen register was not a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and hence no warrant was required. The pen register was installed on telephone company property at the telephone company’s central offices. In the Majority opinion, Justice Blackmun rejected the idea that the installation and use of a pen register constitutes a violation of the “legitimate expectation of privacy” since the numbers would be available to and recorded by the phone company anyway.

  5. Sen.Richard Burr just let the cat out of the bag. Its not the phone data they want to preserved its what your I/P to collect your internet data

    Now what’s bulk data? Bulk data is storing telephone numbers and IP addresses — we have no idea who they belong to — that are domestic. And the whole basis behind this program is that as a cell phone is picked up in Syria, and you look at the phone numbers that phone talked to, if there’s some in the United States we’d like to know that — at least law enforcement would like to know it — so that we can understand if there’s a threat against us here in the homeland [sic] or somewhere else in the world. So Section 215 allows the NSA to collect in bulk telephone numbers and IP addresses with no identifier on it. We couldn’t tell you who that American might be.

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