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NSA phone data collection program is illegal, says appeals court

The National Security Agency’s program to collect reams of Americans’ phone calls is not authorized by Congress, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Thursday.

Congress did not authorize the program under a section of the Patriot Act governing how investigators may collect data for anti-terrorism purposes, wrote Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch for the three-judge panel.

“Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans,” Lynch wrote.

A U.S. district judge in Manhattan previously dismissed a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, saying the program was integral in the government’s anti-terrorism efforts. The ACLU contends the surveillance program violates people’s privacy. Thursday’s appeals court decision overturns that December 2013 ruling.

The phone collection program was first revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The case is No. 14-42, American Civil Liberties Union et al v. Clapper et al.

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