This Judge Just Smacked Down A Key NSA Spy Program

A federal court finds that agency’s efforts to sweep up telephone metadata were illegal.

National Security Agency headquarters in Ft. Meade, VirginiaTrevor Paglen


A panel of federal judges slapped down the National Security Agency’s telephone metadata collection program Thursday, effectively saying that the program goes way beyond what the law allows. In a 97-page decision released by the 2nd US Court of Appeals, the three-judge panel found that the Patriot Act doesn’t allow the government to collect phone records in such a blanket way.

The court’s ruling won’t stop the program, as the New York Times notes. Rather, it punts the issue back to lower courts and Congress to determine exactly what’s okay and what isn’t. But the decision, written by Judge Gerard E. Lynch, doesn’t pull any punches either. “Congress cannot reasonably be said to have ratified a program of which many members of Congress—and all members of the public—were not aware,” he wrote.

Here are some highlights from his ruling, which you can read in full below:

On the government using “inapplicable statutes and inconclusive legislative history” in its arguments:

 

On the government’s “unprecedented and unwarranted” definition of what material is relevant to an actual investigation:

 

 

On whether Congress, or the public, fully understood what the government was going to do with this program:

 

Full decision:

 

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate