NSA's mass surveillance programme exposed by Snowden was illegal, rules US court

Published September 3, 2020
In this  June 21, 2013 file photo, a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping US surveillance programmes, is displayed at Central Hong Kong's business district. — AP
In this June 21, 2013 file photo, a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping US surveillance programmes, is displayed at Central Hong Kong's business district. — AP

Seven years after former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the mass surveillance of Americans’ telephone records, an appeals court has found the programme was unlawful — and that the United States intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were not telling the truth.

In a ruling handed down on Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the warrantless telephone dragnet that secretly collected millions of Americans’ telephone records violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and may well have been unconstitutional.

Snowden, who fled to Russia in the aftermath of the 2013 disclosures and still faces US espionage charges, said on Twitter that the ruling was a vindication of his decision to go public with evidence of the NSA's domestic eavesdropping operation.

“I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA’s activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them,” Snowden said in a message posted to Twitter.

Evidence that the NSA was secretly building a vast database of US telephone records — the who, the how, the when, and the where of millions of mobile calls — was the first and arguably the most explosive of the Snowden revelations published by the Guardian newspaper in 2013.

Up until that moment, top intelligence officials publicly insisted the NSA never knowingly collected information on Americans at all. After the programme’s exposure, US officials fell back on the argument that the spying had played a crucial role in fighting domestic extremism, citing, in particular, the case of four San Diego residents who were accused of providing aid to religious fanatics in Somalia.

US officials insisted that the four — Basaaly Saeed Moalin, Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud, Mohamed Mohamud, and Issa Doreh — were convicted in 2013 thanks to the NSA’s telephone record spying, but the Ninth Circuit ruled on Wednesday that those claims were “inconsistent with the contents of the classified record".

The ruling will not affect the convictions of Moalin and his fellow defendants; the court ruled the illegal surveillance did not taint the evidence introduced at their trial. Nevertheless, watchdog groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped bring the case to appeal, welcomed the judges’ verdict on the NSA’s spy programme.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for our privacy rights,” the ACLU said in a statement, saying it “makes plain that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records violated the Constitution".

Opinion

Editorial

UAE targeted
Updated 19 Jan, 2022

UAE targeted

MONDAY’S deadly drone strikes by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeting the UAE, and subsequent retaliatory attacks on...
19 Jan, 2022

New province debate

THE private bill introduced by a PML-N senator seeking a new province in south Punjab amounts to oversimplification...
19 Jan, 2022

Omicron in Karachi

WITH the wedding season in full swing, it is no surprise that the Covid positivity rate in Karachi has been touching...
The establishment pivot
18 Jan, 2022

The establishment pivot

It is a sad reality that the power matrix continues to revolve around the establishment.
18 Jan, 2022

Remittances growth

THE hefty growth in remittances from Pakistanis living abroad continues to defy forecasts to the contrary. New State...
18 Jan, 2022

China-Iran deal

THE China-Iran strategic deal that has recently taken effect is more than just a long-term bilateral agreement...