The US Court of Appeals has given a ruling today that says the NSA’s use of mass data collection of metadata from phone records was illegal.
After a lower court judge did not dismiss the claims that this case could have been unconstitutional, it was decided by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals that it was, and that there was a legal case against the NSA.
But what does this mean for wider data collection around the world?
The NSA’s actions have caused widespread condemnation from governments and privacy advocates and has sparked a crisis amongst many in power. This is because with the increase in technology that allows companies and governments to collect more data, they have gathered billions of records for a variety of uses.
Some, such as Google and Facebook, have used this data to help with user experience and to help advertisers target specific user groups. Governments and agencies have used this information under the pretext of helping identify and prevent terrorism throughout the world.
The difference between the two sets is that when the larger companies are hoovering up the data, they are collecting specific things. They want to know the sites you have been visiting, what you have been viewing, what you like, what you dislike and any other information that could be interesting to people who want to advertise on their sites. What governments have been doing is creating huge funnels where millions of phonecalls, text messages and various forms of communications are collected to see if any of it contains any indication of terrorist activity.
With this method the vast majority of the data being gathered is both not known about and also not used. It means that there is blanket collection of all data, rather than picking selected metadata from suspects, every phone’s metadata is collected.
This ruling does not mean that the practice will cease though, but it will be paused, according to the judges:
“In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,”
So this will be something that will be debated in congress before it is either ceased or altered and continued.
What precedent this legal decision will set is yet to be seen, but the short term effects are that people who have their data used by the NSA could have a basis for legal action against the government.
What this will mean in the long term for companies who hold huge amounts of information is yet to be seen, but is likely to have some affect on how they collect, store or analyze their data moving forward.