A US appeals court has ruled that the National Security Agency’s massive collection of phone records of Americans is illegal, saying it exceeds the scope of what Congress authorised.
The laws used as a basis for the bulk data collection ‘have never been interpreted to authorise anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here,’ said the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in a 97-page opinion on Thursday.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the NSA and FBI, following disclosures about the vast surveillance programs in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The ‘metadata’ collected from millions of phone calls includes the numbers called, times and other information but not the content of conversations.
Still, civil liberties advocates argue the program is a massive intrusion on privacy with only minimal help in the anti-terrorism effort.
The court stopped short of ruling on the constitutional issues of the bulk collection of phone metadata, but said the government went far beyond what Congress intended in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, a law aimed at allowing authorities to thwart terrorism.
The court declined to issue an injunction to halt the program, saying it would make little sense since the law is set to expire on June 1.