Washington — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Thursday that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone and other records was never authorized under section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The intelligence community has argued for the legality of their intelligence gathering practices since well before the first Snowden revelations about the extent of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.
The appellate court’s decision in ACLU v. Clapper is the culmination of a series of lawsuits by activists and the civil liberties community aimed and putting an end to the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. While the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Amnesty International and other groups did not have standing due to an inability to prove concretely that they or their members had been surveilled, Snowden’s revelations from later that year provided the factual basis necessary for the ACLU to clear that justiciability hurdle in this most recent case.
With the PATRIOT Act set to sunset in less than a month, Congress now has the opportunity to permanently put a stop to the bulk records collection program and institute robust checks to the intelligence community’s surveillance powers, which the Second Circuit’s ruling confirmed to be necessary and sorely lacking.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association has testified against surveillance overreach at Congressional hearings and has long supported reforms that would end bulk data collection. The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:
“As Congress considers renewing aspects of the PATRIOT Act, this ruling is valuable because it shows the tendency of the intelligence community to overreach and use the law to expand surveillance beyond Congress’ intentions.
“The decision in ACLU v. Clapper makes clear that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone records has no basis in the law, and demonstrates that additional transparency and oversight mechanisms are necessary to ensure such an overbroad statutory interpretation does not happen again.
“The USA FREEDOM Act would bring better oversight to surveillance programs and would ban mass records collection — ending the very practice the Second Circuit ruled illegal. CCIA urges Congress to move swiftly to pass the USA FREEDOM Act in response to this court ruling.”