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NSA’s Bulk Data Collection Declared Illegal By US Court

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

NSA’s practice of collecting metadata from millions of American citizens has been declared illegal by a panel of three judges from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In a 97-page ruling, the judges said that the bulk data collection program overstepped its limits and violated the provisions that it was designed for. The ruling paves the way for challenging the mighty NSA in the court and also puts a question mark on the future of the program itself since it is set to expire on 1st June 2015.

The ruling also overturns a judgment from the lower court which declared that NSA’s bulk data collection program could not be challenged in the court. You may recall that American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had filed a case against NSA over its metadata collection program soon after Edward Snowden leaked details about the agency’s secret spying programs. However, the lower court had sided with the intelligence agency in its ruling and called the bulk data collection program necessary in order to deal with the threats posed by terrorists.

The bulk data collection program was unveiled by the NSA to counter the threats posed by terrorists in the aftermath of September 11 attacks. The program came under the purview of the US Patriot Act which was passed by the George Bush government in order to deal with terror elements. New York District Judge William Pauley said that while the program definitely overstepped its limits, it cannot be said that it violated the US constitution. He also added that the provision to collect records related to counter-terror investigation provides no legal basis for NSA’s practice of bulk collection of phone records of American citizens.

While delivering the judgment, Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch stated that NSA’s bulk data collection program was not authorized by the US Congress and it definitely violated the privacy of Americans. He also added that such extensive data collection was unprecedented and defied the privacy expectations of the American people. He said that while it could be argued that metadata collection is required in the name of domestic security, the program should have been implemented after substantial debate. However, there was no evidence that such a debate ever took place which means the program itself could be deemed as illegal.

While the Court declared that NSA’s bulk data collection program as illegal, it did not rule on the issue whether it violated the Fourth Amendment. The Court sent the case back to the lower court for further action but it did not authorize the preliminary injunction needed to stop the agency’s collection of metadata.

Edward Snowden, who was instrumental in bringing the whole metadata collection program to the public notice, has welcomed the court ruling by calling it an important step for the country. He said that the judgment would not only affect the bulk collection of phone records, it will impact all mass surveillance programs in the future. He also called the ruling as a radical change that challenged the resistance put in place by the American government.

July 15, 2015

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