A court in the US has found that the mass phone surveillance conducted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) is unlawful and has paved the way for a bigger and more serious legal challenge.
An earlier court ruling had made this look unlikely. Judges said at the time that the practice, which was brought to light after the Edward Snowden revelations, could not be subject to judicial review.
A US court of appeal disagreed with this, however, finding that the surveillance practices require closer inspection.
These practices include the mass collection of phone records, during which data on thousands of innocent people in the US and overseas is taken and stored.
Documents leaked by Snowden showed that nine out of 10 people monitored by the NSA were accidentally targeted during the mass-surveillance campaigns.
The NSA stands by its actions, but is frequently challenged. This latest challenge has worked, according to reports in The Guardian.
The phone records of law abiding citizens are none of the NSA's business! Pleased with the ruling this morning. pic.twitter.com/y4FBePt6h6— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 7, 2015
The White House said in a statement to the paper that it is "evaluating" the situation and that president Obama, who is aware of post-Snowden frictions, has already made moves in the direction of less mass surveillance.
"We are in the process of evaluating the decision handed down this morning. Without commenting on the ruling today, the president has been clear that he believes we should end the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata programme as it currently exists by creating an alternative mechanism to preserve the programme's essential capabilities without the government holding the bulk data," said an assistant press secretary.
"We continue to work closely with members of Congress from both parties to do just that, and we have been encouraged by good progress on bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would implement these important reforms."
The decision has not halted the phone call data collection, but it has flagged it for inspection. It was welcomed by opponents, including US senator Rand Paul.
"The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed what you and I already knew - the NSA's mass surveillance programme on US citizens is 100 percent illegal," he wrote on Facebook.
"This is a victory for individual liberty and the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution."
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