NSA bulk surveillance declared illegal

The bulk collection of phone metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA) has been declared illegal by a panel of three federal judges for the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals; the ruling effectively allows a legal challenge to the NSA.

The programme was deemed to have overstepped its remit, but New York District Judge William Pauley dismissed American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims that the programme itself contravened the US constitution, stating: "a provision of the USA Patriot Act permitting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect business records deemed relevant to a counter-terrorism investigation cannot be legitimately interpreted to permit the systematic bulk collection of domestic calling records".

The programme of domestic bulk collection of email is set to expire on 1 June, and renewal was left for Congress  to decide upon, with the judges commenting: “In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape.”  

Consequently, the US House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill to end the government's bulk collection of phone records, the New York Times reports, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants to extend the Patriot Act, and constitutional issues are likely to be raised at this point.

The judges concluded that: “To allow the government to collect phone records only because they may become relevant to a possible authorised investigation in the future fails even the permissive ‘relevance' test.”

Meanwhile, Germany's foreign intelligence agency BND is reducing its cooperation with the US NSA from sharing internet data to only sharing fax and phone intercepts following disclosures of alleged joint spying on European officials and companies. 

German media claimed that the BND-NSA targets included the French presidency, the European commission and the Airbus group. Some 120 BND staff and several NSA technicians work together at the German agency's monitoring base in Bad Aibling.

Separately, The Intercept reports that the NSA's surveillance is  not just emails and taping of phone calls , but also – according to top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA also developed “Google for Voice” nearly a decade ago to automatically recognise the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored – allowing bulk listening.  This topic is not covered in the debate above.

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