Exposed by Edward Snowden, the US government lost a major battle in court over it’s dragnet data collection program

Last week, a federal appeals court ruled the telephone metadata collection program the National Security Agency(NSA) operates, gathering up millions of phone records on an ongoing daily basis under, codenamed STELLARWIND, is illegal under the Patriot Act. The program was first made known by Edward Snowden in June 2013 in his interviews with Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, and filmmaker Laura Poitras.  The sessions were made into the documentary Citizenfour.

The US government made arguments, stating it has the right to keep the program maintained under a section of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire June of this year.  Lawmakers are torn over whether to continue the authority of the sections regarding data collection.

In a written statement on behalf of the three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who was hearing the case, Judge Gerard E. Lynch stated the program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized”, and that the Patriot Act “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.”

However, what the court did not rule on was the question on many people’s minds since the revelation of the program; is it constitutional? Though the section of the Patriot Act that was stated to authorize the program expires in early June, the court sent the case back down to lower courts for further hearings on whether or not the program violated the Constitution.

It can be noted that the judges were very taken back by what they discovered in the decade old secret program.  Lynch further wrote in the court’s statement that “the sheer volume [of the data] was staggering… 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.”

White House National Security Spokesman Ned Price said in a statement:

“Without commenting on the ruling today, the President has been clear that he believes we should end the Section 215 bulk telephone metadata program as it currently exists by creating an alternative mechanism to preserve the program’s essential capabilities without the government holding the bulk data. We continue to work closely with members of Congress from both parties to do just that, and we have been encouraged by good progress on bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would implement these important reforms.” (CNN)

Many Republican members of congress are seeking to defend the bill on its national security basis, but with last week’s ruling, promotion of the authority may become difficult.

-Curt Cramer (@CurtisRemarc)