Snowden scores a big victory

SnowdenCourtesy of Edward Snowden via WiredSnowden with Former CIA and NSA chief General Michael Hayden at a gala in 2011

A US appeals court just ruled that the NSA’s dragent on millions of Americans’ phone calls isillegal, and Edward Snowden served as the catalyst to the decision.

“Americans first learned about the telephone metadata program that appellants now challenge on June 5, 2013, when the British newspaper The Guardian published a FISC order leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden,” the court notes.

The order directed Verizon to produce to the NSA “on an ongoing daily basis . . . all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” 

The US government justified the program by saying that it was covered under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001 in the wake of a terrorist attack on September 11

Section 215, known as the business records provision, authorised intelligence agencies to apply for information if “the records are relevant to an ongoing foreign intelligence investigation.”


The appeals court ruled, however, that”the bulk telephone metadata program is not authorised by § 215.” 

Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the original USA PATRIOT Act, had filed an amicus brief in the suit in which he argued that the government had gone far beyond what the legislation authorizes.

 “The NSA is gathering on a daily basis the details of every call that every American makes, as well as every call made by foreigners to or from the United States,” the brief read. “How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”

Snowden allegedly stole up to 1.77 million NSA documents while working at two consecutive jobs for US government contractors in Hawaii from March 2012 to May 2013.

The 31-year-old gave an estimated 200,000 documents to American journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in early June 2013. Greenwald published several stories about NSA domestic spying for the Guardian before starting The Intercept with the cache of documents. (The whereabouts of the rest of the documents are unknown)

Snowden has had a rough run lately. HBO host John Oliver confrontedthe former NSA contractor out over the dubios claim that he read all of the documents he stole and gave to journalists. And NSA William Binney told Business Insider that he stands by his June 2013 comment that Snowden was “transitioning from whistleblower to a traitor” after he reveal NSA operations to the South China Morning Post.

On Friday, Snowden can claim a victory.

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