Seven years after whistleblower Edward Snowden unearthed the secret mass surveillance of American citizens by the National Insurance Agency, a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, in 2013, it has come to light that the program was, in fact, unlawful – and probably unconstitutional.
A court ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday said the program was in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The program saw the NSA – without a warrant – secretly collecting and analyzing bulk data provided by telecommunications companies.
While working at the NSA as a contracted worker for outside agencies for four years, Snowden, aged 29 at the time, decided to leak documents to American and British journalists from The Washington Post and The Guardian. Namely, these documents revealed the NSA had acquired millions of Americans’ phone records daily from Verizon through a secret court order, among other things.
Snowden was charged for espionage (charges he still faces) but fled the country, eventually seeking asylum in Russia.
Upon hearing the news, Snowden tweeted that he never thought he would live to see US courts “condemn the NSA’s activities as unlawful,” let alone credit him for exposing them.
Up until the documents were revealed, the top intelligence officials publicly denied the NSA had knowingly collected information on Americans. When it all came out, they defended the program citing the arrests of four San Diego residents who were accused of providing aid to religious fanatics in Somalia and claiming that it had been pivotal in fighting domestic extremism.
Despite Wednesday’s ruling, those cases have not been affected because “the illegal surveillance did not taint the evidence introduced at their trial,” The Guardian reports.
The American Civil Liberties Union, who broke the news on Twitter on Wednesday, called the ruling a “victory for our privacy rights.”