A federal appeals court has ruled that the telephone metadata collection program used by the National Security Agency to spy on Americans was illegal, just as NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said seven years ago.

The metadata “bulk collection” program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday. The opinion delivered by Judge Marsha Berzon reportedly contained multiple references to Snowden and his role in disclosing the program to the public – for which he became a wanted fugitive. 

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.

Snowden himself commented on the verdict, saying he never imagined he would see the courts condemn the NSA and give him credit for exposing the program, “and yet that day has arrived.” He was initially trapped in Hong Kong when the US canceled his passport in 2013, and ended up getting political asylum in Russia, where he has lived ever since.

While the ruling might pave the way for Snowden seeing charges against him dropped, or perhaps receiving a presidential pardon, its significance was otherwise symbolic. The people on whose behalf the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought the case – four Somali immigrants convicted on charges of financing the terrorist group Al-Shabaab – will remain unaffected, as the Ninth Circuit said the NSA program played a role so minor it did not undermine their convictions.

The fucked up part is that this is the *one case* that the government could point to to say that the phone records dragnet “works”. And now we know all that illegal mass surveillance wasn’t relevant even in this single instance.

The case of Basaaly Moalin and his three co-defendants was the sole instance acknowledged by the US government in which data collected under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act was used to secure a conviction for terrorism.

Nor does the verdict have any bearing on the surveillance program, as it was replaced in 2015 by provisions of the USA FREEDOM Act, which were in turn allowed to expire at the end of 2019. The modified program had the phone companies collecting the data and providing it to the government upon request, which was controversial enough.

Snowden’s revelations were a bombshell because earlier that year, NSA Director James Clapper outright told a Senate panel the agency was “not wittingly” collecting “any type of data at all on millions of Americans.”

Clapper has since offered a litany of excuses as to why that wasn’t perjury, initially saying he was trying to answer a “complicated” question that should have stayed classified, only to later claim he had been referring to data collection under a different provision of the PATRIOT Act.

He later became the Director of National Intelligence in charge of the so-called intelligence assessment about “Russian meddling” in US elections, joining CNN as a pundit after the election of President Donald Trump.

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