2015 May 7

Second Ciruit Court of Appeals Rules NSA “Bulk Mail Collection Illegal


The Second Circuit Court of Appeals on this day ruled that the National Security Administration’s (NSA) “bulk mail collection” of American’s email traffic was illegal under the terms of Section 215 of the 2001 Patriot Act. The court did not rule that the collection was unconstitutional, however. Nonetheless, the decision was a major blow to the government’s program of surveillance of Americans.

The Patriot Act became law on October 26, 2001, and included many provisions that violated the rights of Americans.

The full scope of NSA spying on Americans was exposed by Edward Snowden who stole massive NSA files and then released them to selected journalists. Revelations from the files continued for two years. See June 5, 2013 and many subsequent events.

On June 2, 2015, Congress enacted a new law that for the first time scaled back government surveillance of Americans. The new law prohibited the government from collecting and story “bulk data” on Americans’ communications. The communications companies can store the data, but the government can obtain particular records only with a subpoena issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) (see the creation of the court on October 25, 1978). The new law also required the FISC to declassify some of its important decisions, adding a new element of transparency to its operations. Finally, private individuals can appear before FISC to argue for greater privacy protections in particular cases.

Most observers believe that Congress scaled back government surveillance only because of the expose of illegal spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) in the documents released to selected news media. The first Snowden-related stories appeared on June 5, 2013.

Read: Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014)

Read the best book on President Obama and the war on terrorism: Charlie Savage, Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency (2015)

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