An appeals court ruling on NSA bulk data collection rested on an unresolved technicality rather than focusing on the constitutionality of the surveillance aspect of NSA activity. Ultimately what the court ended up saying is they are unable to rule on the bulk collection because there is no way to determine if the plaintiff’s data was collected (emphasis added):
The decision did not declare the NSA’s program, which was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, to have been legal or constitutional. Rather, it focused on a technicality: a majority opinion that the plaintiffs in the case could not actually prove that the metadata program swept up their own phone records. Therefore, the plaintiffs, the court declared, did not have standing to sue.
“Plaintiffs claim to suffer injury from government collection of records from their telecommunications provider relating to their calls. But plaintiffs are subscribers of Verizon Wireless, not of Verizon Business Network Services, Inc. — the sole provider that the government has acknowledged targeting for bulk collection,” wrote Judge Stephen F. Williams.
“Today’s ruling is merely a procedural decision,” said Alexander Abdo, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued against the program at the U.S. District Court. “Only one appeals court has weighed in on the merits of the program, and it ruled the government’s collection of Americans’ call records was not only unlawful but ‘unprecedented and unwarranted.’”
Despite Friday’s decision, the bulk collection program will end later this year in accordance with the USA Freedom Act, passed by Congress in June.
The NSA previously argued that its massive collection of telephony metadata was legal because the records met the legal standard of being “relevant to an authorized investigation.”
In the May decision, Judge Gerald E. Lynch described the government’s interpretation of the word “relevant” as “extremely generous” and “unprecedented and unwarranted,” saying that the program had serious constitutional concerns and was ultimately illegal. However, the court did not order the program’s closure, because Congress was due to debate the USA Freedom Act within a month’s time.