Court to NSA: Patriot Act Doesn’t Allow What You Do

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the Patriot Act does not allow the NSA to collect metadata.

I am pleasantly surprised by this news even though I am pessimistic (or realistic) enough to expect the court’s decision to be overturned. Here is the headline at Wired magazine’s website: “Court Rules NSA Bulk Data Collection Was Never Authorized By Congress.”

As Americans wait for Congress to decide next month whether to renew the Patriot Act and the vast NSA metadata surveillance program it’s made possible, a panel of three appellate judges has made the decision on its own: The Patriot Act, they’ve now ruled, was never written to authorize the sort of sweeping surveillance the NSA interpreted it to allow.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled on Thursday that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata by the NSA wasn’t in fact authorized by section 215 of the Patriot Act, as the intelligence community has argued since the program was first revealed in the leaks of Edward Snowden two years ago. The ruling doesn’t immediately halt the domestic phone records surveillance program. But if it’s not overturned by a higher court it could signal the program’s end—and it at least forces Congress to choose whether it wishes to explicitly authorize the program when the Patriot Act comes up for renewal on June 1st.

Frankly, even though I’ve been following the story and am interested in it, the whole thing has been so convoluted that I tend to forget the details. For example, during the debates over the Patriot act and NSA domestic spying, it often slips my mind that, as far as we know, no congressman who voted for the Patriot Act had any idea he was voting in favor of the NSA implementing bulk data collection. That was the NSA’s interpretation of the law… and one that they classified as essential to national security so that there was no legal way to ever question that interpretation!

And the man who broke the silence and gave us the knowledge of what our government is doing had to flee to Russia for his own safety.

Only because of Edward Snowden’s bravery could we now appeal to the courts about whether or not the NSA’s spy program was authorized by Congress.

“We hold that the text of § 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” the ruling reads. “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. Until such time as it does so, however, we decline to deviate from widely accepted interpretations of well‐established legal standards.”

My only problem with this ruling is that it really shouldn’t matter if Congress authorized the spying or not. It is plainly unconstitutional and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. So the law should be struck down on Constitutional grounds even if Congress passed it.

But it still shows you how far our government has disintegrated when bureaucracies dare to basically make their own secret laws to justify secret activities that not even Congress knows about.

It shows still more that Presidential candidates are happy to justify such criminal treason.