Appeals Court Reverses Injunction on NSA Bulk Phone Record Collection

Protester Alli McCracken outside the Justice Department on Jan. 17, 2014.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Friday, a Washington, D.C., appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision that the National Security Agency couldn’t conduct bulk phone-record collection. The panel of three judges said that plaintiff Larry Klayman (a conservative activist) hadn’t proved that his personal phone calls had been collected by the NSA’s wide-cast net and therefore lacked standing. But privacy advocates don’t need to panic.

Congress decided to shut down NSA bulk data-collection programs on June 1 but allowed for a transition period during which the NSA can do ongoing surveillance. As the Washington Post points out, the appeals court’s decision does not speak to the question of what surveillance is constitutional, or the legality of what the NSA previously did. The only appeals court that has weighed in on that is the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in a ruling from May. That court said that NSA bulk collection was not in keeping with the Patriot Act and was “unwarranted.”

Even beyond these legal battles, privacy advocates are also concerned about how much surveillance the NSA and other government intelligence bodies can still do using the existing troves of data, malware campaigns, and overseas channels they have access to. 

Klayman says he will add other plaintiffs whose data was collected to the complaint so it can move forward again. He told the Guardian, “It’s outrageous this court would allow the constitutional rights of Americans to be trampled upon.”