2nd Circuit rules NSA data dragnet illegal, just weeks before current authority set to expire

2nd Circuit rules NSA data dragnet illegal, just weeks before current authority set to expire

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of millions of Americans’ phone records isn’t authorized by the Patriot Act, as the Bush and Obama administrations have long maintained.

The ruling greatly increases the pressure on Congress to make significant changes—or end outright—the surveillance program. The judges not only ruled against the phone program, but sharply criticized many of the legal theories upon which the U.S. government has built out its surveillance capabilities since the 2001 terror attacks. …

The ruling by the three-judge panel in New York comes at a delicate point in the national debate over government surveillance, as Section 215 of the Patriot Act is due to expire on June 1 and lawmakers are haggling about whether to renew it, modify it, or let it lapse. The court’s 97-page decision is the most significant legal ruling on the program. …

The court declined to address the issue of whether the program violates Americans’ rights, because, they found, it was never properly authorized by existing law. And the judges didn’t order the collection to stop, noting the legislative debate and the looming expiration of Section 215 will force action on the issue one way or another.

But the judges, in stark language, undercut the primary legal basis the U.S. has long cited for its bulk collection.

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