NSA Meta Data Program Struck Down
The Second Circuit Federal Appeals Court which sits in Manhattan, New York struck down the secret government program exposed by Edward Snowden that consisted of the bulk telephone metadata collection, under which the National Security Agency (“NSA”) collects in bulk “on an ongoing daily basis” the metadata associated with telephone calls made by and to Americans, and aggregates those metadata into a repository or data bank that can later be searched and correlated.
The Court defined Meta Data as, “Unlike what is gleaned from the more traditional investigative practice of wiretapping, telephone metadata do not include the voice content of telephone conversations. Rather, they include details about telephone calls, including, for example, the length of a call, the phone number from which the call was made, and the phone number called. Metadata can also reveal the user or device making or receiving a call through unique “identity numbers” associated with the equipment (although the government maintains that the information collected does not include information about the identities or names of individuals), and provide information about the routing of a call through the telephone network, which can sometimes (although not always) convey information about a caller’s general location. According to the government, the metadata it collects do not include cell site locational information, which provides a more precise indication of a caller’s location than call‐routing information does.”
In analyzing the program by making the analogy to Grand Jury subpoenas, which require the information subpoenaed to be relevant, the Court concluded, “that to allow the government to collect phone records only because they may become relevant to a possible authorized investigation in the future fails even the permissive ‘relevance’ test. Just as ‘the grand jury’s subpoena power is not unlimited,’ …, § 215’s power cannot be interpreted in a way that defies any meaningful limit. Put another way, we agree with (the ACLU) that the government’s argument is ‘irreconcilable with the statute’s plain text.’ … Such a monumental shift in our approach to combating terrorism requires a clearer signal from Congress than a recycling of oft‐used language long held in similar contexts to mean something far narrower.”
Finally, on the arguments that this program was a violation of the First and Fourth Amendment’s of the United States Constitution, the Court declined to decide the issue; however, did imply that information given to third parties (cell phone companies) does not necessarily carry the protections of the Constitution.
Read the original decision here.
ACLU v. Clapper