While Edward Snowden may be legally charged for treason in the US (even as he gets his own statue in Berlin), his contributions to US civil rights just got a huge validation by none other than the Federal appeals court which ruled moments ago that 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.
It would appear America's transformation into a "Big Brother" police state is not endorsed by every branch of the government after all.
As the WSJ reports, 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 next month and lawmakers are haggling about whether to renew it, modify it, or let it die."
The court’s ruling came in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union arguing the data collection should be stopped because it violates Americans’ privacy rights. A lower court judge ruled the program was constitutional, and the civil liberties group appealed, leading to Thursday’s decision.
“The text of (Section 215) cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and...does not authorize the telephone metadata program,’’ the court wrote.
Ironically, 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.
Of course, had it been authorized, the logical implication is that it would have been a violation, however score two for the government which not only did not legally implement mass spying on its citizens, but proceed to do so for years while violating the constitution.
But before anyone gets concerned that all their data will no longer be "backed up" by the NSA, fear not: the judges didn't order the collection to stop, noting that the legislative debate and the looming expiration of Section 215 will force action on the issue one way or another.
The judges also note that if Congress decides to approve some version of the phone data collection program in coming days, then the privacy issue could be revisited in court.
The panel sent the case back to the lower court judge for further review based on the appeals court findings.
So to summarize: the NSA massive telephonic data collection is not legal, but it is still allowed to continue indefinitely. Even Turkey would approve.