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Appeals court rules NSA phone data collection program is illegal, Utahns react

Posted at 9:34 PM, May 07, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- The National Security Agency’s massive phone data collection program is illegal, according to a federal appeals court.

A three judge panel for the Second Circuit Court made the ruling Thursday, after the government had argued their once top-secret program was allowed under a provision of the Patriot Act.

“I think it’s very affirming. I think what the NSA is doing is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Pete Ashdown, president of XMission in Utah.

As one of the largest internet companies in the state, Ashdown’s work has led to several run-ins with law enforcement and government agencies. In 2010, Ashdown was forced to comply with a Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court request, which is the same request that the NSA used to collects millions of phone records under its controversial program.

“It’s burdensome for us to be watching our customers,” he said. “And it’s something I don’t want to do.”

The government had argued their work was allowed under a provision of the Patriot Act, known as Section 215.

But after the program was leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden, lawmakers and the public demanded answers.

Now, it’s up to Congress to decide whether or not to do away with it--a solution not everyone thinks is wise.

"Technology is moving at a speed where we can't keep up with it, so we're losing our capability along our first line of defense against Islamic terror, and that is an effective intelligence gathering capability, combined with robust Congressional oversight and continuous monitoring,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who serves as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

Section 215 expires on June 1, at which point lawmakers will have to come to some kind of agreement. One possibility is a piece of legislation called the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee. The White House has expressed support for the plan, but it’s unclear if it will garner enough votes in Washington.

“I think the privacy versus security argument is something that a lot of politicians try to make, but we haven’t seen a lot of results in the security area,” Ashdown said. “We haven’t seen a lot of convictions. We haven’t seen a lot of return.”