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NSA Surveillance Program Outed by Edward Snowden Ruled Illegal

A federal appeals court held that the NSA went beyond the legal limits of a hotly debated Patriot Act provision set to expire on June 1st

Edward Snowden

A panel of federal appeals judges ruled today that the program outed in 2013 by Edward Snowden is illegal.

Barton Gellman/The Washington Post/Getty

A federal appeals court this morning ruled that the National Security Agency surveillance program outed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden is illegal, The New York Times reports.

The ruling by a panel of three judges held that the NSA went beyond the legal limits of a hotly debated Patriot Act provision set to expire on June 1st and currently before Congress for potential reauthorization. As the Times described it, the judges found that the provision “permitting the Federal Bureau of Investigation to collect business records deemed relevant to a counterterrorism investigation cannot be legitimately interpreted to permit the systematic bulk collection of domestic calling records.” 

The Guardian, whose reporter Glenn Greenwald broke the NSA surveillance story after receiving leaked documents from Snowden, a former NSA analyst, highlighted key sections from today’s ruling.

“We hold that the text of section 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” the court ruled. “Such a monumental shift in our approach to combating terrorism requires a clearer signal from Congress than a recycling of oft‐used language long held in similar contexts to mean something far narrower…We agree with appellants that the government’s argument is ‘irreconcilable with the statute’s plain text.'”

Snowden and Greenwald were the subjects of the 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary Citizenfour, directed by Laura Poitras, which helped bring national attention to the previously secret NSA program. Snowden has also spoken out in a number of other prominent interviews about the program’s implications for citizens’ privacy.

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