Appeals Court: NSA Call Metadata Program Was Illegal, Likely Unconstitutional

September 2, 2020

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled today that the NSA's bulk collection of phone call metadata violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and was likely unconstitutional. EPIC and a coalition of groups filed an amicus brief in the case, United States v. Moalin, arguing that call metadata is protected under the Fourth Amendment. "We hold that the telephony metadata collection program exceeded the scope of Congress's [FISA] authorization," the Ninth Circuit wrote. The court rejected the argument that individuals lack a Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy in call metadata simply because the data is held by phone companies. The public is "likely to perceive as private several years' worth of telephony metadata collected on an ongoing, daily basis—as demonstrated by the public outcry following the revelation of the metadata collection program," the court explained. The court cited to the coalition amicus brief and to the work of EPIC advisory board member Laura K. Donohue. However, the court declined in this particular case to exclude the unlawfully collected metadata as evidence. In In re EPIC, EPIC petitioned the Supreme Court to end the NSA's bulk phone record collection program, which occurred with the 2015 passage of the USA Freedom Act.

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