A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of Americans’ phone records, the subject of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, is not legal under the Patriot Act.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held in the case, which was brought by the ACLU, that the telephone metadata collection program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized.” The Court did not rule on a larger Constitutional issue and sent the case back down to a lower court for further proceedings.
The program gathers up bulk telephone records to enable targeted searches based on telephone numbers or other identifiers associated with terrorist organizations.
A three judge panel held that the text of the Patriot Act “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it and that it does not authorize the telephone meta date program.”
The Court said, “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress choses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportuntiy to do so, unambiguously. Until such times as it does so, however, we decline to deviate from widely accepted interpretations of well-established legal standards. ”
“This is a landmark ruling and it critically important decision, what it means going forward depends entirely on Congress, because this provision was set to expire on June 1st anyway,” said Steve Vladeck of American University.
The Court said it wouldn’t block the provision while the case is reconsidered at the lower court.