Appeals court rules NSA collection of phone metadata illegal

A federal appeals court found NSA's bulk collection of phone records illegal; meanwhile, a separate appeals court reversed a ruling on police snooping.
A federal appeals court found NSA's bulk collection of phone records illegal; meanwhile, a separate appeals court reversed a ruling on police snooping.

A New York federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that the National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of Americans' phone records is illegal.

The unanimous three-judge decision determined that the NSA's collection of phone metadata “exceeds the scope” of any authorization provided by Congress under the Patriot Act.

Brought to the court in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately following Edward Snowden's leaks, the case challenged Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorized the collection of “any tangible things” determined relevant to an investigation into suspected terrorists.

The Patriot Act is set to expire in June, and although Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, for example, has tried pushing for a discussion on the Act, it remains to be seen whether the Senate will address it prior to adjourning for an end-of-May break.

In its ruling, the court stated that if the government was correct in its use of Section 215, it would imply that the NSA could collect and store bulk metadata from anywhere in the private sector, including metadata associated with financial records, medical records, and electronic communications.

“Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans,” the court wrote in its opinion.

In a separate case this week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a privacy ruling last year that initially determined that police needed a warrant to seek cellphone records from wireless carriers in the U.S. On Tuesday, the court ruled that a warrant isn't needed to seek these records.

The case, U.S. v. Davis, centered on Quartavious Davis who was convicted for a robberies in Miami. To assist in its conviction, the prosecution relied on cellphone location data.

The opinion stated that the records served “compelling government interests” and that Davis had little expectation of privacy in the records held by his phone company.

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