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Privacy Rights: US Spy Scandal - N.S.A. Collection of Bulk Call Data Is Ruled Illegal - Charlie Savage and Jonathan Weisman

A US federal appeals court in New York on Thursday ruled that the once-secret National Security Agency program that is systematically collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk is illegal.

The decision comes as a fight in Congress is intensifying over whether to end and replace the program, or to extend it without changes.

In a 97-page ruling, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a provision of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, known as Section 215, cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic calling records.

The provision of the act used to justify the bulk data program is to expire June 1, and the ruling is certain to increase tension that has been building in Congress.

It also comes as controversy over electronic surveillance is building in Europe, including a push in France to increase domestic spying and a decision by Germany to reduce cooperation on surveillance with the United States.

The ruling puts new pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to make serious changes to the Patriot Act, which he has so far aggressively defended against any alteration, even as recently as Thursday on the Senate floor. Mr. McConnell has pressed to maintain the N.S.A.’s existing program against bipartisan efforts to scale it back, and has proposed simply extending the statute by the June 1 deadline.

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