NSA spying ruled illegal; what’s next?

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In some ways, 2013 seems like it was yesterday, and in other ways it seems like 2013 was an eternity ago. On March 12 of that year, the US Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in the case of Clapper v. Amnesty International USA that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to sue the NSA. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion, the plaintiffs’ argument that they have the standing to challenge the program was based on a “highly speculative fear.” He also wrote they “have no actual knowledge of the Government’s … targeting practices,” and “can only speculate as to how the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will exercise their discretion in determining which communications to target.”

Roughly two months later, Edward Snowden revealed what Amnesty International had alleged: the NSA had been spying on millions of Americans without cause or warrant. Then in December of 2013, US District Court Judge Richard Leon issued a ruling saying that the NSA program was “almost Orwellian” and “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ [of privacy].” Adding, “Congress should not be able to cut off a citizen’s right to judicial review of that Government action simply because it intended for the conduct to remain secret.” Leon also ruled the “plaintiffs have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the [spying program].”

Fast forward to May 7, 2015, a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection program was illegal. The US government claims the data collection was operating under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. However Judge Gerard Lynch wrote the text of the USA PATRIOT Act “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.”

What is the future of the NSA bulk collection program, which is set to expire June 1? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already introduced a bill to extend the illegal program, without modification, by five years. Ron Paul writes, “If past practice is any lesson, Congress will wait until the spying program is about to expire and then in a panic try to frighten Americans into accepting more intrusions on their privacy.”

What does this mean for Edward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on the illegal spying program? Edward Snowden should be treated like a hero, not a criminal. Though, if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to wager that no employee of the NSA who participated in the illegal spying will be punished, and that Edward Snowden will be the one person to face any charges for his role, being a whistleblower, in the illegal NSA spying program. This is not unprecedented: the only person incarcerated in connection with the CIA torture program was the man who exposed the torture program!