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Appeals court rules NSA phone data collection illegal; upholds convictions

Sept. 2 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled it was illegal for the National Security Agency to collect data on Americans' phone calls, but upheld the terror convictions of four Somali immigrants who challenged the now-defunct intelligence program.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that not only was the NSA's practice of tracking the metadata on millions of domestic cellphones illegal, it also likely violated the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.

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The ruling came in response to a challenge by four Somali immigrants convicted in 2013 of funding al-Shabab based on part on evidence collected under the NSA surveillance. Still, Judge Marsha Berzon, who authored the court's opinion, upheld the convictions.

"Having carefully reviewed the classified [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] applications and all related classified information, we are convinced that under established Fourth Amendment standards, the metadata collection, even if unconstitutional, did not taint the evidence introduced by the government at trial," she wrote.

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The NSA surveillance program was created by the FISA Court under the Patriot Act, which was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It allowed the U.S. government to bulk collect phone records and metadata from millions of Americans.

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The extent the program went to surveil American came to light in 2013 when whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked information. Congress ended the program in 2015.

Somali-Americans Basaaly Saeed Moalin, Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, Issa Doreh and Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud were convicted in 2013 for raising funds for al-Shabab based on evidence collected by the NSA.

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