The National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records has been deemed illegal by a federal appeals court, who also claimed Section 215 of the US Patriot Act did not give the NSA permission to tap into millions of cellphones without a warrant.
It is the first time the NSA has been held up in its own country for phone surveillance. This could lead to major reform, if the court case goes higher up into the Supreme Court and Congress.
The NSA implanted phone surveillance in 2007 with the help of AT&T, Verizon Wireless and other carriers who were issued subpoenas and not allowed to speak to anyone about the intrusion, setting up networks to send all phone records to the NSA.
For almost a decade, the NSA has used this information to build a surveillance profile of everyone in America, storing the data in centers across the US. Even though the agency claims it does this for national security and anti-terrorism, there have been no positive results of the phone surveillance resulting in failed terrorist attacks.
“This ruling should make clear, once and for all, that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is unlawful,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Alex Abdo. “And it should cast into doubt the unknown number of other mass surveillance operations of the NSA that rely on a similarly flawed interpretation of the law.”
The NSA has plenty of other ways to obtain information from people both in and out of the US, including backdoor access to technology company servers and tapping into the large utility pipes that send Internet underwater.
These operations are still very much in play, although the European Union is fighting to have the Internet surveillance removed from the US, by changing the rules of the US-EU safe harbour treaty. This might mean US corporations have to build data centers inside each country in Europe, and not filter that information back to the US.