The US Court of Appeals has declared the collection of telephone metadata by the National Security Agency to be illegal.
It’s a landmark ruling, paving the way for a more fleshed-out case against the NSA in regards to its mass surveillance programs.
A previous ruling declared that the programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden two years ago could not be reviewed in court.
However, three federal judges have now overturned that ruling, and ruled that the NSA was in violation of US law.
According to the Court, the actual practices by the NSA were beyond what was intended when the Patriot Act was first passed following the September 11 World Trade Centre attacks.
The Patriot Act was implemented to combat further terrorist attacks against the USA, but the NSA is now confirmed to have acted outside of the Act’s initial mandate.
Judge Gerard E. Lynch described the government’s claims that phone metadata collection was ‘relevant’ as being ‘unprecedented and unwarranted’.
The Court’s 97-page opinion described the law used by the government to justify the collection as having ‘never been interpreted to authorise anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here’.
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Now, a full legal challenge against the NSA can go ahead, renewing hope for those who believe Snowden acted in the best interests of the US public.
Snowden is currently hiding from US authorities in Russia, as he is likely to be prosecuted for revealing NSA secrets if he returns to home soil.
The American Civil Liberties Union said: “This ruling should make clear, once and for all, that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is unlawful.”
It continued: “And it should cast into doubt the unknown number of other mass surveillance operations of the NSA that rely on a similarly flawed interpretation of the law.”