Federal Court Finds NSA Metadata Program Illegal

Posted on September 12, 2020

According to Politico, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a former NSA call metadata collection program violated US law. In its unanimous decision, the appeals court found the authorizations of the NSA’s so-called “bulk collection” program by the secretive FISA courts rested on dubious legal footing.

The program cited in the ruling involved the collection of metadata such as the phone numbers involved and call duration, on calls made by Americans and other US persons, the latter of which refers to any individual currently on US soil. Initially reformed by the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, the NSA later ended the bulk collection last year after its own assessment that it was of comparatively little value to US security. This appraisal was echoed by the 9th Circuit Court, which found the bulk collection program to be minimally useful in identifying national security threats.

While the court’s judgment comes many years after the allegation of illegality was first publicly leveled at the program, it arrived at particularly auspicious timing. The review of the program’s legality, along with that of others operated by the NSA, came at the prompting of former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden. Snowden has resurfaced in the public discourse as rumors swirl that President Donald Trump is considering issuing him a presidential pardon for charges of leaking classified information.

This development also bolsters efforts to reinforce user metadata with constitutional privacy protections, a decades-long project of civil libertarians. Although the recent ruling did not go so far as to confer 4th Amendment protections upon call metadata, it does set the stage for future establishing these protections. It also sets an important precedent which may set tighter limits on the scope of NSA programs, and possibly a reform to the flawed FISA courts which sanctioned the bulk collection program in the first place.

You can read the full story from Politico here.