Civil liberties activists on Tuesday asked a federal court to block intelligence agents’ bulk collection of Americans’ phone data, months after the court called the program illegal.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has no authority to continue collecting data about millions of Americans’ phone calls, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claimed in a brief filed on Tuesday — but it's doing so anyway.
Months after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that the controversial program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized,” the advocacy group told the court to shut it down for good.
“[T]he language the government is relying on to collect call records now is precisely the same language this court has already concluded does not permit that surveillance,” ACLU lawyers wrote on Tuesday.
The law “did not authorize bulk collection in May, and it does not authorize it now," it added.
Tuesday’s filing represents a late blow to the NSA, and leaves dangling the chance that its phone records program is yanked away before the six-month transition period given to it by Congress.
Lawmakers weighed in earlier this year, after a brief lapse in the NSA’s authority. In the USA Freedom Act, lawmakers voted to end the NSA phone program by the end of the year and enact new limits on other types of surveillance and increase some forms of transparency.
The phone records program collects “metadata” about people’s calls, including information about the two phone numbers involved, when the call occurred and how long it lasted. It does not pick up the content of people’s conversations.
That congressional action was spurred by the appeals court decision’s just a few weeks previous. The court called the program illegal, but declined to shut it down immediately “to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress.”
Last month, the secretive federal court overseeing intelligence operations said that the NSA could resume the bulk phone records collection until the program is phased out, despite the brief lapse in its powers.