(BBC) – A US appeals court has ruled that bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency is illegal. A lower court judge erred in dismissing a lawsuit challenging the program’s constitutionality, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals said.
The ruling overturns a 2013 decision which said the programme was constitutional.
The NSA’s snooping was leaked by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who has since fled to Russia.
The NSA has collected data about numbers called and times, but not the content of conversations. It also allegedly spied on European firms.
Among individuals targeted was German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The latest verdict, by The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, came after New York District Judge William Pauley had dismissed a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which argued that the way the NSA tracked million of calls contravened the US constitution.
The 97-page ruling says that “a provision of the USA Patriot Act permitting the Federal Bureau of Investigation to collect business records deemed relevant to a counterterrorism investigation cannot be legitimately interpreted to permit the systematic bulk collection of domestic calling records”.
Bulk data collection rulings
- NSA phone surveillance first revealed in June 2013 by Edward Snowden
- Federal judge in Washington rules in December 2013 that mass collection may be unconstitutional
- A week later, a New York district judge says it is legal
- House of Representatives passes bill in May 2014 to end NSA bulk collection
- A few days later, President Barack Obama tells Congress to pass a bill ending the practice
However, the appeals court stopped short of ruling on the constitutionality of the programme, which is set to expire on 1 June.
Since 2006, the programme has repeatedly been approved in secret by a national security court.
Leaders of the lower US House of Representatives prefer 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.