With the Patriot Act coming up for renewal in just a month’s time, The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled recently that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata by the NSA wasn’t in fact authorized by section 215 of the Patriot Act, in contradiction to assertions made by the intelligence community, since the program was revealed by Edward Snowden about two years ago.
While this ruling will not result in an immediate stoppage of the program, and it is possible that the ruling will be overturned on appeal, it could very well signal the end of the controversial collection of all American’s Mobile phone metadata, as it will be a problematic position for lawmakers to explicitly approve the program. As stated in the ruling: “We hold that the text of § 215 cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” the ruling reads. “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously. Until such time as it does so, however, we decline to deviate from widely accepted interpretations of well‐established legal standards.”
A reform bill known as the USA Freedom Act, which seeks to rein in metadata collection, has been introduced in the House, but is presently opposed by Republicans. The ruling does not declare the metadata collection unconstitutional, the position taken by the ACLU in it’s arguments before the court, stating that the program was a breach of the fourth amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure, but merely states that if congress really intends that the government should be collecting all of this data, it needs to explicitly state so.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in defending the program was of the position that the re-authorization of the Patriot Act in 2010 and 2011 were an implicit approval of the program, however In the wake of the Snowden leaks, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the primary authors of the bill, stated that the blanket collection of American’s phone metadata was never envisioned when they proposed the Patriot Act, rather that 215 was intended for targeted investigations, not for mass surveillance.
As these stories continue to take root, it becomes increasingly obvious each day that privacy and data security go hand-in-hand in the modern world. Proper server management and data storage best-practices go a long way toward keeping your content secure from third-parties, and while government interaction would likely be needed to fend off NSA level eavesdropping, it is even more important to protect your data from getting into the hands of less scrupulous hackers or data miners.