When documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed details about the NSA's bulk collection of phone records, many people were understandably outraged. But, the federal government has argued that the program is legal under the Patriot Act. Now, a federal appeals court has shot down that argument and ruled in favor of privacy.
[Judge Gerard E.] Lynch wrote that the text of the Patriot Act "cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program."
Under the program, the NSA collected metadata like the length of the call and the telephone numbers on either end. It then analyzed the data based on phone numbers associated with terrorist organizations. The court ruled that the program was not legal under the Patriot Act, but did not rule on the constitutionality of the bulk collection of metadata.
The NSA and government officials have used Section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify the bulk collection of metadata. That section is set to expire in June. Congress is currently debating whether or not to renew it.
"This is a landmark ruling and a critically important decision, " said Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law American University, Washington College of Law and an analyst for CNN. "What it means going forward depends entirely on Congress, because this provision was set to expire June 1st anyway, " he said.
This case a huge victory for privacy advocates, but not everyone is happy about it. Senator Marco Rubio defended the NSA program, stating that many people misunderstand it.
"A perception has been created, including by political figures who serve in this chamber, that the United States government is listening to your phone calls or going through your bills as a matter of course," said Rubio. "That is absolutely and categorically false."