A US appeals court on Friday threw out a judge’s ruling that would have blocked the National Security Agency from collecting phone metadata under a controversial program that has raised privacy concerns.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said there were not sufficient grounds for the preliminary injunction imposed by the lower court. The law in question expired in June and was revised by Congress.
The three-judge panel concluded that the case was not moot despite the change in the law and sent the case back to US District Court Judge Richard Leon for further proceedings.
“Although one could reasonably infer from the evidence presented the government collected plaintiffs’ own metadata, one could also conclude the opposite,” wrote Judge Janice Rogers Brown. As such, the plaintiffs “fall short of meeting the higher burden of proof required for a preliminary injunction,” she added.
The NSA and other intelligence agencies had no immediate comment.
Under the amended law, the existing metadata collection program is set to continue for 180 days after the June 2 enactment of the USA Freedom Act.
The new law would require companies such as Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, to collect and store telephone records the same way that they do now for billing purposes.
But instead of routinely feeding US intelligence agencies such data in bulk, the companies would be required to turn it over only in response to a government request approved by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the massive phone record collection in June 2013. Documents provided by Snowden showed a US surveillance court had secretly approved the collection of millions of raw daily phone records in America.
The program was challenged by plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange. Klayman is a conservative lawyer and Strange is the father of a US cryptologist technician killed in Afghanistan in 2011. They won the case in US District Court in Washington in December 2013.
The government said the program was authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
In a separate case, the 2nd US Court of Appeals in New York ruled in May that the program was unlawful. The court is due to hear new arguments next week over whether an injunction should be imposed.