The Patriot Act doesn't actually authorize the government's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records, a federal appeals court ruled today. A three-judge panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said a lower court, which had thrown out the case, had erred in ruling that the post-9/11 phone records collection by the NSA was legal, as the current and previous administrations have maintained. However, the AP reports the 2nd Circuit declined to block the program, saying it is now up to Congress to decide whether and under what conditions it should continue. That will happen soon: The Patriot Act's Section 215 expires June 1, and lawmakers are currently grappling over what to do, with many favoring a reining-in of it.
How the court put it in a 97-page decision that the Wall Street Journal frames as "the most significant legal ruling on the program": "The text of (Section 215) cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and ... does not authorize the telephone metadata program." The Journal notes that the court did not rule on whether the collection violated the rights of Americans, saying that's a moot point based on its determination that such collection isn't authorized to begin with. (Read more NSA stories.)