Menu
US appeals court rules against NSA phone records collection

US appeals court rules against NSA phone records collection

Congress didn't give the agency the authority to collect U.S. phone records in bulk, the court says

The U.S. National Security Agency's program to collect domestic telephone records in bulk was not authorized by Congress in the Patriot Act, an appeals court has ruled.

The NSA's phone records program violates U.S. law because it "exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized," a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled.

The appeals court vacated a December 2013 ruling by a district court judge who granted the government a motion to dismiss the case, but upheld the district court decision to deny plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union, a preliminary injunction to halt the so-called phone metadata collection program.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, an antiterrorism law passed weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., allows the NSA to collect business records, phone records and "any tangible thing" that government officials have reasonable grounds to believe are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation.

But the NSA's bulk, ongoing collection of nearly all U.S. phone records depends on an expansive definition of relevance, Judge Gerard Lynch[cq] wrote for the panel.

"The government takes the position that the metadata collected -- a vast amount of which does not contain directly 'relevant' information, as the government concedes -- are nevertheless 'relevant' because they may allow the NSA, at some unknown time in the future, utilizing its ability to sift through the trove of irrelevant data it has collected up to that point, to identify information that is relevant," Lynch wrote. "We agree with appellants that such an expansive concept of 'relevance' is unprecedented and unwarranted."

Under the phone records program, the NSA collects so-called metadata, information about who telephone users are calling and the frequency and duration of calls, but not the call content.

The appeals court declined to tackle the ACLU's assertion that the phone records program violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, protecting the country's residents against unreasonable searches and seizures. Instead, the court focused on whether Congress had authorized the program in the Patriot Act.

The constitutional claims lead to some "vexing" questions, the appeals court said. "Because we conclude that the challenged program was not authorized by the statute on which the government bases its claim of legal authority, we need not and do not reach these weighty constitutional issues," the court said. "The seriousness of the constitutional concerns, however, has some bearing on what we hold today, and on the consequences of that holding."

Representatives of the ACLU and the NSA weren't immediately available for comment.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentprivacylegaltelecommunicationCivil lawsuitsAmerican Civil Liberties UnionU.S. National Security AgencyU.S. CongressU.S. Court of Appeals for the Second CircuitGerard Lynch

Featured

Slideshows

EDGE 2018: Kiwis kick back with Super Rugby before NZ session

EDGE 2018: Kiwis kick back with Super Rugby before NZ session

New Zealanders kick-started EDGE 2018 with a bout of Super Rugby before a dedicated New Zealand session, in front of more than 50 partners, vendors and distributors on Hamilton Island.​

EDGE 2018: Kiwis kick back with Super Rugby before NZ session
EDGE 2018: Kiwis assess key customer priorities through NZ research

EDGE 2018: Kiwis assess key customer priorities through NZ research

EDGE 2018 kicked off with a dedicated New Zealand track, highlighting the key customer priorities across the local market, in association with Dell EMC. Delivered through EDGE Research - leveraging Kiwi data through Tech Research Asia - more than 50 partners, vendors and distributors combined during an interactive session to assess the changing spending patterns of the end-user and the subsequent impact to the channel.

EDGE 2018: Kiwis assess key customer priorities through NZ research
Show Comments