NSA Bulk Data Collection Ruled Illegal By Federal Appeals Court

The NSA’s practice of collecting the phone records of Americans is illegal, a Federal appeals court ruled today. The new decision in the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) effectively kills the NSA’s position that its data collection practice was authorized by section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Overturning an earlier opinion, the Federal appeals court wrote that “the bulk telephone metadata program is not authorized by section 215 (of the Patriot Act).” The decision doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the government’s data collection program, however. In its opinion, the Federal court points out that the program is merely not authorized by the Patriot Act and suggests that Congress could take action to ensure that the program continues.


“If Congress decides to authorize the collection of the data desired by the government under conditions identical to those now in place, the program will continue in the future under that authorization,” the court wrote in its conclusion.

The court also voices concerns about the way that the program’s internal, secret review policy and complains about its use of the concept of “relevance” to justify the broad data collection.

In any event, the ball is now in Congress’ court. If it wants to keep the program alive, it can do so, and if it wants to keep the program in its current form, it can do so, but it will need to be specific time around. This isn’t the only issue plaguing the NSA in recent weeks. The government agency is also struggling to convince Americans that their encrypted data should be unlockable by the government.