US rules its spying plan is illegal

903163A spying program that collects millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal, a federal appeals court ruled.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the Patriot Act did not authorise the National Security Agency to collect Americans’ calling records in bulk.

Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel that Section 215, which addresses the FBI’s ability to gather business records, could not be interpreted to have permitted the NSA to collect a “staggering” amount of phone records, contrary to claims by the Bush and Obama administrations.

“Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans,” Lynch wrote in a 97-page decision. “We would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language. There is no evidence of such a debate.”

However the court said that it would not halt the program, because the Patriot Act including Section 215 expire on June 1.

Lynch said it was “prudent” to give Congress a chance to decide what surveillance is permissible, given the national security interests at stake.

America only found out about the illegal programme after Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who lives as a fugitive in Russia, in June 2013 exposed the agency’s collection of “bulk telephony metadata.”

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a Senate budget hearing on Thursday that NSA data collection was a “vital tool in our national security arsenal,” and that she was unaware of privacy violations under its existing program.

It places Snowden in an interesting position. The ruling has confirmed that he was a whistleblower on illegal government activity. If that is the case then it should be harder for the government to get a conviction against him. Of course if he did return to face the music he probably would still be strung up.