WASHINGTON, May 7 (UPI) -- The National Security Agency's collection of telephone metadata on millions of Americans is not authorized by the Patriot Act, making it illegal, a federal appeals court ruled.
The scope program was first uncovered by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, sparking a debate about privacy, security and the reach of government surveillance.
The court ruled in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union arguing the metadata collection violates the privacy rights of Americans.
The NSA collected telephone metadata under the authority of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allowed for secret court orders to collect "tangible things" that could be used by the government in investigations.
The Patriot Act was enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks to combat terrorism. Section 215 expires on June 1.
"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 court wrote.