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US court rules NSA surveillance program was illegal

September 3, 2020

A federal court has ruled that the US intelligence’s surveillance program exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden was unlawful, and possibly unconstitutional.

An undated handout image by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows the NSA logo in front of the National Security Agency's headquarters in Fort Meade,
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/National Security Agency

A US federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that the controversial National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden was illegal. The ruling stopped short of calling the program unconstitutional.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said that the program, under which the NSA collected and analyzed bulk data provided by telecommunications companies, was in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and could have been unconstitutional.

"Seven years ago, as the news declared I was being charged as a criminal for speaking the truth, 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, who fled to Russia after exposing the program, on Twitter. "And yet that day has arrived."

He still faces charges of espionage in the US.

After initially denying that the intelligence agency collected information on Americans, officials maintained that the spying helped the country combat domestic extremism.

The most popular case cited was that of four California residents — Basaaly Saeed Moalin, Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud, Mohamed Mohamud, and Issa Doreh — who have been convicted of funding the Al-Shabaab extremist group in Somalia.

NSA's domestic spying program helped get this conviction, which will not be impacted by the latest ruling.

However, human rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have hailed the ruling as "a victory for our privacy rights."