In a ruling with potentially major implications, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that there was no legal basis for the NSA’s telephone record surveillance, and that the scheme was therefore unlawful.
The ruling centered on Patriot Act Section 215, which itself is about to expire, and which both the Bush and Obama Administrations claimed gave the NSA the power to collect telephone records on all Americans.
The court ruled that the section, designed to allow the FBI to gather business records under certain circumstances, could not be interpreted as allowing the “staggering” among of wholesale data collection the NSA was doing.
“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,” the ruling read.
There was of course little debate surrounding the Patriot Act as a whole when it was passed, and even the surveillance programs and the legal justification underpinning them were long a secret.
Bizarrely, though the court ruled the program illegal, they did not order it to be discontinued, noting that Section 215 expires in June, and even though they ruled that didn’t apply, they will allow the program to continue through then to “give Congress a chance to decide.”