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Government Surveillance

Circuit Court Rules Bulk Collection Program Illegal

Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that the government’s bulk collection of records about calls to, from, and within the U.S. is unlawful. In sweeping language, the court found that the purported statutory basis of the program – Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act – does not authorize bulk collection of phone call records.

“The court crushed every argument the Department of Justice invoked in support of the bulk collection program,” said CDT Advocacy Director Harley Geiger. “Members of Congress supporting straight reauthorization of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act are trying to entrench a useless mass surveillance program that courts deemed illegal, Congress never intended, and the American public does not support. Today’s ruling makes the case for bulk collection even flimsier.”

Section 215 sunsets on June 1, 2015 and Congress is considering whether to reauthorize or reform the statute. The House Judiciary Committee approved the leading reform proposal – the USA FREEDOM Act – on a vote of 25-2 on April 30, and the legislation is expected to come to the House floor next week. The bill would end bulk collection of telephone call records under Section 215 and replace it with a targeted collection authority. It would also preclude bulk collection under other PATRIOT Act authorities, increase intelligence surveillance transparency and statutorily authorize amicus participation in FISA court deliberations.

“The court’s decision will strengthen the hand of those in Congress who want to improve the USA FREEDOM Act,” Geiger added. “Reauthorization of Section 215 without reform, if it ever was a viable option, is no longer,” he added. “Instead, the debate will shift to how to further improve the USA FREEDOM Act.”

The Second Circuit’s ruling in ACLU v. Clapper can be found here.

CDT’s Q & A on USA FREEDOM Act can be found here.