Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee turned whistleblower Edward Snowden responded on Wednesday to a ruling by the US Court of Appeals that the US National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programme, including the bulk collection of citizens’ phone records, was illegal.
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.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 2, 2020
And yet that day has arrived. https://t.co/FRdG2zUA4U
The programme, believed to have been discontinued in 2015 when Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, had extended beyond the scope of what Congress allowed under a foundational surveillance law, ruled a panel of judges, acknowledging that it was possibly a violation of the US Constitution.
The former NSA contractor tweeted that he had been “charged as a criminal for speaking the truth”.
Snowden was referring to the trove of classified intelligence data detailing the sweeping American domestic surveillance programme that he had leaked in 2013 and for which he is wanted in the US on charges of espionage and treason.
Snowden tweeted that he was now being “credited” for his actions to “expose the illegal spying practices” conducted by US intelligence agencies.
NSA Phone-spying Unlawful
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had made its ruling, written by Judge Marsha Berzon, on Wednesday, to acknowledge that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act didn’t permit the bulk collection of phone users’ call records.
“The metadata collection exceeded the scope of Congress’s authorisation,” the judge is cited by Business Insider as saying.
The court also upheld convictions of four members of the Somali diaspora. for sending, or conspiring to send, $10,900 to Somalia to support a foreign terrorist organisation, concluding that the NSA's phone record collection was not relevant to their convictions.
The federal appeals court additionally concluded there was no evidence the sweeping surveillance programme resulted in the arrests of any suspected terrorists.
After the NSA's programme to harvest phone records was first leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 and triggered public outrage, US intelligence officials publicly defended it by insisting it had helped thwart terror attacks.
"To the extent the public statements of government officials created a contrary impression, that impression is inconsistent with the contents of the classified record," says the ruling.
There has been no official comment from the NSA.
After the US Court of Appeals made its ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweeted that the move was a “victory for privacy rights”.
Mass Snooping Exposed
In June 2013, Edward Snowden leaked classified material to The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers pertaining to a domestic mass surveillance programme that collected telephone, email and internet browsing data, despite this being prohibited by US law without a court order.
After the revelations and subsequent public outrage, the US Congress passed the Freedom Act in 2015 to significantly restrain the legality of mass data collection.
Since June 2013, Edward Snowden has been wanted in the United States on two counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property.
Having initially fled to Hong Kong, the threat of extradition to his home country forced him to seek refuge in Russia. In 2014 the whistleblower was granted a three-year residence permit which was prolonged in 2017.