A panel of judges from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the NSA's mass phone-record collection program was not authorized by Congress in the Patriot Act.
The appeal was launched by the ACLU, who point out that the case sets a number of important precedents and establishes a number of important facts, including the idea that "metadata" is every bit as sensitive as data; the precedent that mass records collection (like the DEA's surveillance programs) are not legal; and that decisions about the extension of spying powers should only take place with public debate.
The decision's significance extends far beyond the phone records program alone. It implicates other mass spying programs that we have learned about in the past two years and — almost certainly — others that the government continues to conceal from the public. For example, we know that the Drug Enforcement Administration, for decades, employed a similar definition of "relevance" to amass logs of every call made from the United States to as many as 116 different countries. The same theory was also used to justify the collection of email metadata. Both those programs have been discontinued, but the legal reasoning hasn't, and it could very well be the basis for programs the government has never acknowledged to the public, including the CIA's bulk collection of Americans' financial records.
Why Today's Landmark Court Victory Against Mass Surveillance Matters
[Patrick Toomey and Noa Yachot/ACLU][
NSA's phone spying program ruled illegal by appeals court [Jonathan Stempel/Reuters]