The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Wednesday that the mass surveillance of Americans that former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden exposed seven years ago was unlawful and perhaps unconstitutional.
The ruling determined that the warrantless telephone tapping secretly collecting data from millions of Americans’ telephone records violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and exceeded the scope of Congress’ power.
“We conclude that the government may have violated the Fourth Amendment and did violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when it collected the telephony metadata of millions of Americans,” the ruling reads in part.
Snowden is currently wanted on espionage charges and fled to Russia after disclosing to the public in 2013 that the United States government was conducting mass surveillance on Americans, according to Reuters.
In a tweet Wednesday, Snowden said the ruling confirms what he knew seven years ago.
“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 NSA’s activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit my for exposing them,” Snowden wrote. “And yet that day has arrived.”
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.
And yet that day has arrived. https://t.co/FRdG2zUA4U
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 2, 2020
The ruling mentioned Snowden several times. (RELATED: REP. BUCK: FISA-The Federal Initiative To Spy On Americans)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the ruling a “victory” in a tweet Wednesday.
“BREAKING: A federal appeals court just ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal. This ruling, which confirms what we have always known, is a victory for our privacy rights.”
BREAKING: A federal appeals court just ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal.
This ruling, which confirms what we have always known, is a victory for our privacy rights.
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 2, 2020
Prior to Snowden exposing the NSA, intelligence officials consistently denied allegations that the NSA was spying on Americans, according to Reuters.
Once Snowden came out with the information, officials argued instead that the mass surveillance was crucial in helping fight domestic extremism. They reportedly cited the case pertaining to Wednesday’s ruling in order to make this argument. The case involved four San Diego residents accused of providing aid to religious extremists in Somalia, per the same report.
Despite officials’ claims, the court ruled Wednesday that the claims were “inconsistent with the content of the classified records.”
However, the court also noted that the illegal surveillance was not enough to affect the convictions of the four defendants, noting the surveillance “did not taint the evidence introduced by the government at trial.”
The ruling echoes a 2015 decision from the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said collection of information relevant to terrorism does not warrant mass surveillance of phone records, according to Politico.
The NSA program that tapped into millions of phones was shut down in 2019, according to the New York Times.
Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is now calling on President Donald Trump to pardon Snowden, saying this ruling confirms Snowden did the right thing during his Hot Takes with Matt Gaetz podcast.
“James Clapper lied to the American people. But you know who did tell the American people the truth? Edward Snowden,” Gaetz said. “And as of today, the case has never been stronger that Edward Snowden deserves a pardon from President Trump. I would support a pardon for Edward Snowden. If it were not for Snowden, we might not know today that our own government was engaged in an activity that now a federal appellate court has deemed illegal.”
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denied that the NSA was spying on Americans during a 2013 hearing, according to the Associated Press.
Despite calls to pardon Snowden for exposing government surveillance, Snowden allegedly stole more than 1.5 million NSA documents, some possibly detailing US capabilities and NSA offensive cyber operations, according to Business Insider (BI).
“The vast majority of the documents that Snowden…exfiltrated from our highest levels of security… had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told Congress in 2014, according to BI. “The vast majority of those were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques, and procedures.”
An undated Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) briefing obtained by VICE said Snowden took “over 900,000” Department of Defense (DoD) files that “could negatively impact future military operations.”
However, Snowden denied claims in 2013 that he took copies of the documents, saying he handed over all the documents he had to journalists while he was in Hong Kong, according to the NYT.
“There’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents,” he said.
Snowden’s actions have come under criticism from some who claim his actions left the United States vulnerable to attacks.
“Edward Snowden’s theft of files, whatever good it accomplished in igniting a national conversation on surveillance, also opened the door to more aggressive Russian intrusions in cyberspace,” wrote Edward Jay Epstein, an investigative journalist and former Harvard professor.