US appeals court says no to NSA bulk data sweep

WASHINGTON: The NSA´s massive collection of phone records of Americans goes far beyond what Congress authorized, an appeals court ruled Thursday, in a decision that pressures Congress to enact reforms.

The laws used as a basis for the National Security Agency´s bulk data collection “have never been interpreted to authorize anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here,” the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 97-page opinion.

The ruling ups the pressure on Congress to pass reforms on surveillance laws ahead of a June 1 expiration of the key law in question.

The court ruled in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the NSA and the 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 while providing only minimal help in the anti-terrorism effort.

The New York appellate court did not address the constitutional issues of bulk collection, 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.

“There is no evidence that Congress intended for those statutes to authorize the bulk collection of every American´s toll billing or educational records and to aggregate them into a database,” the appellate panel said in the opinion.

“The interpretation that the government asks us to adopt defies any limiting principle. If the government is correct, it could use (Section) 215 to collect and store in bulk any other existing metadata available anywhere in the private sector… relating to all Americans.”

The law has been used by the NSA to locate people linked to potential terrorist attacks outside the United States and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in domestic surveillance.