A legal showdown is brewing over the NSA bulk collection of phone data.
On June 29, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the NSA bulk collection of phone data may temporarily resume, despite an appeals court ruling it illegal in May.
The USA Freedom Act passed on June 2 and replaced the section of the Patriot Act that had previously endorsed the program until the appeals court decision. Under the new legislation, the NSA needed to petition a special court to get access to the data collected and stored by phone companies rather than allowing the NSA to collect the data as they had previously.
The USA Freedom Act gave a six-month window to the NSA to wind down the bulk collection program and did not make any reference to the previous appeals court ruling.
An advocacy group went to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and challenged the six-month window, saying the appeals court decision had declared the bulk collection program illegal. But Judge Michael W. Mosman of the surveillance court rejected the challenge, saying that the appeals court decision was not binding on the surveillance court, which “respectfully disagrees with that court’s analysis, especially in view of the intervening enactment of the USA Freedom Act.”
The American Civil Liberties Union will ask the appeals court that ruled the NSA program illegal to issue an injunction to again prohibit the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Democrats in both houses of Congress, some libertarian-leaning Republicans, as well as the White House all supported the USA Freedom Act.
Calls for pulling back on government surveillance powers enacted after 9/11 by the Patriot Act have grown in the past couple of years in the wake of revelations made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about the extent of government surveillance authorized by the act. Government data-collection methods revealed by Snowden included unrestricted tapping into major Internet provider and website metadata, the bulk collection of phone data and email data, and even spying on the leaders of other countries.