NSA Phone Spying Is Illegal, Says U.S. Appeals Court

In an unexpected turn of events, a New York federal appeals court ruled the controversial NSA phone data collection program to be illegal. This is a huge win for privacy advocates, who have held steadfastly that the NSA blatantly disregards constitutional privacy protections.

Americans first received hard evidence of the private metadata collection by the NSA from leaks by Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who has since fled the country for fear of harsh legal retribution. He recently served as the subject of “Citizenfour,” an acclaimed documentary that highlighted NSA practices in stark detail and follows the fallout from Snowden’s activities in real time.

While many experts have long suspected NSA overreach, the details only became publicly available following the Snowden revelations in 2013. The Patriot Act, a post-September 11 invention that provides legal justifications for what were previously considered violations of civil liberties, has been used to defend the NSA’s spying for years. The provision of the Patriot Act the NSA uses to justify its data collection is set to expire on the first of June, although today’s ruling complicates the matter as a simple reauthorization would now find the NSA in violation of a federal court ruling if it continues to use the provision as justification.

Judge Gerard E. Lynch did not go so far as to rule the program unconstitutional, another claim by plaintiffs from the American Civil Liberties Union. What Lynch unambiguously stated is that, for a program of this nature to be legal, Congress must transparently authorize its activities.

The decision declaring the current NSA program illegal reads in part:

“We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far‐reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY) has resisted attempts to end the NSA collection of phone metadata, despite the fact the House is expected to pass a bill next week aimed at stopping the bulk collection of phone data by the government.

Unlike other controversial issues facing U.S. legislators, NSA data collection does not fall on clear party lines. Progressive Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans have found each other to be strong allies in the fight against NSA overreach. Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY), a 2016 presidential contender, is arguably the most vocal opponent of the NSA’s surveillance of private citizen activities.

The New York Times highlights that today’s ruling marks the first time in history that NSA activities have been reviewed by a higher-level court in the “regular” judicial system, as these programs have previously only been tested by a national security court in secret.

You can read the full 97-page ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit here.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Sen Senz
Sayenne H2 years ago

Ron B. exactly, we can never really know.

Beth Wilkerson
Beth Wilkerson2 years ago

the only surprising part is that the court was willing to state what we already knew

Jane R.
Jane R2 years ago

If they only collected data on suspicious people, that would be okay, but to spy on all law abiding citizens? WRONG!

Ron Walker
RONALD Walker2 years ago

Not surprise at all! The only surprise is why did take so long! What little I know about the law and that is very little. What I do know anything transmitted over the air wave is free to listen too. By anyone! So I still have question about the whole listen into bit? So what is going to happen next?

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago


Karen K.
Karen K2 years ago

John Oliver did a great segment on this and went to Russia to see Snowden. It's worth seeing.

Maggie Welch
Maggie D2 years ago

The NSA is unconstitutional. Amendment #4 to the Constitution states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

ERIKA S2 years ago