Another flimsy justification for mass surveillance bites the dust— the Second Circuit court ruled today that Section 215 of the Patriot Act does not give the National Security Agency any authority to collect metadata. In other words: the NSA’s phone snooping program is straight-up unlawful.
A panel of three judges overturned an earlier district court ruling that the NSA’s program didn’t need judicial review.
“We conclude that the district court erred in ruling that Section 215 authorizes the telephone metadata collection program, and instead hold that the telephone metadata collection program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized and therefore violates Section 215,” the ruling reads.
This is a big blow to the NSA, since it uses Section 215 as its main justification for its controversial phone surveillance program, first made public by Edward Snowden. The ruling didn’t come right out and say that the program was unconstitutional, but the court was forthright in its disapproval. The ruling notes that the NSA’s interpretation of Section 215 could allow for an “unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans.”
“For years, the government secretly spied on millions of innocent Americans based on a shockingly broad interpretation of its authority. The court rightly rejected the government’s theory that it may stockpile information on all of us in case that information proves useful in the future,” ACLU Attorney Alex Abdo said in a statement. “Mass surveillance does not make us any safer, and it is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy necessary in a free society.” The ACLU filed the case in 2013, following the Snowden revelations.
A recently declassified report on another NSA surveillance program, Stellarwind, revealed that many top officials had serious doubts about its legality for years, and this ruling underlines that the justification for this sort of dragnet surveillance is fundamentally flawed.