NSA phone spying ruled illegal

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the government is reviewing the appeals court’s decision

Updated - November 16, 2021 07:33 pm IST

Published - May 09, 2015 04:42 am IST - NEW YORK

The unprecedented and unwarranted bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the government is illegal because it wasn’t authorised by Congress, a federal appeals court said on Thursday as it asked legislators to decide how to balance national security and privacy interests.

The National Security Agency’s collection and storage of U.S. landline calling records times, dates and numbers but not content of the calls was the most controversial programme among many disclosed in 2013 by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden. Some NSA officials opposed the programme, and independent evaluations have found it of limited value as a counterterrorism tool. Mr. Snowden remains exiled in Russia.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan permitted the NSA to continue temporarily as it exists, but all but pleaded for Congress to better define where boundaries exist.

“In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may [or may not] profoundly alter the legal landscape,” said the opinion written by Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch.

“The statutes to which the government points have never been interpreted to authorize anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here,” the court said. “The sheer volume of information sought is staggering.”

A lower court judge in December tossed out an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, saying the program was a necessary extension to security measures taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The appeals court said the lower court had erred.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the government is reviewing the court’s decision. She added that the June 1 expiration of the Patriot Act provisions provides opportunities to reauthorize the program “in a way that does preserve its efficacy and protect privacy.”

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