….The panel rejected the government’s argument that the ACLU lacked standing because it couldn’t prove that any one person’s records, sitting in a searchable database, had been reviewed by government officials. But whether it’s a machine or a person doing the searching doesn’t matter, Lynch wrote:
[T]he government admits that, when it queries its database, its computers search all of the material stored in the database in order to identify records that match the search term. In doing so, it necessarily searches appellants’ records electronically, even if such a search does not return appellants’ records for close review by a human agent. There is no question that an equivalent manual review of the records, in search of connections to a suspect person or telephone, would confer standing even on the government’s analysis. That the search is conducted by a machine might lessen the intrusion, but does not deprive appellants of standing to object to the collection and review of their data.
This could become an important precedent in a legal review of the NSA’s ability to automatically turn voice into text, which I disclosed on Tuesday, based on more documents from the Snowden archive.
The court’s rebuttal of the government’s argument that Congress wanted bulk collection kept secret from the public is quietly blistering:
The government has pointed to no affirmative evidence, whether “clear and convincing” or “fairly discernible,” that suggests that Congress intended to preclude judicial review. Indeed, the government’s argument from secrecy suggests that Congress did not contemplate a situation in which targets of § 215 orders would become aware of those orders on anything resembling the scale that they now have. That revelation, of course, came to pass only because of an unprecedented leak of classified information.
The court did not officially rule on whether the program is unconstitutional, because it ruled it illegal on a statutory basis. But, Lynch wrote: “The seriousness of the constitutional concerns, however, has some bearing on what we hold today, and on the consequences of that holding.”
The primary author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., has said that neither he nor anyone else imagined the law would be used for bulk domestic surveillance. “How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?” Sensenbrenner asked, shortly after Snowden revealed the program.
And as Lynch wrote in the opinion: “Congress cannot reasonably be said to have ratified a program of which many members of Congress – and all members of the public – were not aware.”
In a concurring opinion, Judge Robert D. Sack wrote:
Considering the issue of advocacy in the context of deliberations involving alleged state secrets, and, more broadly, the “leak” by Edward Snowden that led to this litigation, calls to mind the disclosures by Daniel Ellsberg that gave rise to the legendary “Pentagon Papers” litigation
(full article by Dan Froomkin on The Intercept, here)