By Raphael Satter
September 04, 2020 "Information
Clearing House" - Seven years after
former National Security Agency contractor Edward
Snowden blew the whistle on the mass surveillance of
Americans’ telephone records, an appeals court has
found the program was unlawful - and that the U.S.
intelligence leaders who publicly defended it were
not telling the truth.
In a ruling handed down on Wednesday, the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the
warrantless telephone dragnet that secretly
collected millions of Americans’ telephone records
violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
and may well have been unconstitutional.
Snowden, who fled to Russia in the aftermath of
the 2013 disclosures and still faces U.S. espionage
charges, said on Twitter that the ruling was a
vindication of his decision to go public with
evidence of the National Security Agency’s domestic
“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,”
Snowden said in a message posted to Twitter.
Evidence that the NSA was secretly building a
vast database of U.S. telephone records - the who,
the how, the when, and the where of millions of
mobile calls - was the first and arguably the most
explosive of the Snowden revelations published by
the Guardian newspaper in 2013.
Up until that moment, top intelligence officials
publicly insisted the NSA never knowingly collected
information on Americans at all. After the program’s
exposure, U.S. officials fell back on the argument
that the spying had played a crucial role in
fighting domestic extremism, citing in particular
the case of four San Diego residents who were
accused of providing aid to religious fanatics in
U.S. officials insisted that the four - Basaaly
Saeed Moalin, Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud, Mohamed
Mohamud, and Issa Doreh - were convicted in 2013
thanks to the NSA’s telephone record spying, but the
Ninth Circuit ruled Wednesday that those claims were
“inconsistent with the contents of the classified
The ruling will not affect the convictions of
Moalin and his fellow defendants; the court ruled
the illegal surveillance did not taint the evidence
introduced at their trial. Nevertheless, watchdog
groups including the American Civil Liberties Union,
which helped bring the case to appeal, welcomed the
judges’ verdict on the NSA’s spy program.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for our privacy
rights,” the ACLU said in a statement, saying it
“makes plain that the NSA’s bulk collection of
Americans’ phone records violated the Constitution.”
Reporting by Raphael Satter;