Federal Appeals Court Rules NSA Program Illegal

NSA campus in Maryland (Source: AP)

In what presidential candidate Rand Paul deemed a “monumental decision for all lovers of liberty,” a federal appeals court ruled that a National Security Agency program which collected bulk phone records of millions of Americans is illegal, dealing a blow to proponents of mass surveillance in the midst of the so-called war on terror.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York eviscerated many of the legal theories under which the U.S. government has expanded surveillance since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The judges didn’t address whether the NSA program violates constitutional privacy rights, as some groups allege, but found the Patriot Act language used by the Bush and Obama administrations to justify the program wasn’t meant to allow such mass data gathering.

The NSA has used Section 215 of the Patriot Act—a 2001 law that expanded the government’s authority to search for terror suspects—to justify collecting records of nearly every call made in the U.S. The program gathers metadata—the number called, the time and the duration of the call—but not the content of the conversation. The intent is to look for possible contacts among terror suspects.

In an interview with Breitbart News, Paul also said:

Now, they’re saying it’s illegal in that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act doesn’t authorize that—that the government has gone too far—I think that’s a good first step. We want the Supreme Court to eventually rule on whether this is Constitutional or not. Our main complaint, or one of our main arguments is, the Fourth Amendment says you have to name the person who you want to get a warrant—but not naming anyone and putting “Mr. Verizon” down and saying you can get the records of millions of people, you’re not writing a specific warrant.

You’re writing a generalized warrant. This is one of the things that we fought against that the British were doing to us. James Otis famously argued in court that the writs of assistance that the British were using were non-specific and didn’t use the person’s name—and so we wrote the Fourth Amendment to try to stop this kind of stuff. I guess it’s gratifying that the courts are beginning to recognize the problem. We are anticipating and eager for this to get to the Supreme Court.