NSA Wiretapping
Digital audio waves on computer monitor. Computer designed abstract technology concept. Rendered with DOF

The controversial collection of details on billions of American phone calls by the National Security Agency (NSA) was illegal and possibly unconstitutional, according to a ruling by a federal appeals court.

Under the NSA program, information and metadata from calls placed by U.S. citizens were collected in bulk and screened for possible connections to terrorist activity. The program was initially started without court authorization under President George W. Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks, but had been phased out by the NSA between 2018 and 2019 after disuse and technical issues had rendered the data collected unusable. 

“[T]he government may have violated the Fourth Amendment when it collected the telephony metadata of millions of Americans[…]” stated the ruling. 

Information about the widespread data collection was initially brought to the public’s attention in 2013 by Edward Snowden, a government whistleblower who fled to Russia after exposing evidence of the program. 

“I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA’s activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them,” said Snowden. 

The ruling from the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals was issued unanimously by appointees of former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.