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Federal Appeals Court Rules NSA Bulk Data Collection Exceeds What Congress Allowed

In this June 6, 2013 file photo, a sign stands outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- The government's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records after the Sept. 11 terror attacks exceeds what Congress has allowed, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

In this June 6, 2013 file photo, a sign stands outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. The NSA considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American calling records in the months before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the practice, current and former intelligence officials say, because some officials believed the costs outweighed its meager counter terrorism benefits. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) In this June 6, 2013 file photo, a sign stands outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. The NSA considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American calling records in the months before leaker Edward Snowden revealed the practice, current and former intelligence officials say, because some officials believed the costs outweighed its meager counter terrorism benefits. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union illustrated the complexity of balancing privacy interests with the nation's security.

A lower court judge had thrown out the case. The appeals court said the lower court had erred in ruling that the phone records collection by the National Security Agency was legal.

However, the 2nd Circuit declined to block the program, saying it is now up to Congress to decide whether and under what conditions it should continue.

It said a debate in Congress could profoundly alter the legal landscape.

Secret NSA documents were leaked to journalists in 2013 by contractor Edward Snowden, revealing that the agency was collecting phone records and digital communications of millions of citizens not suspected of crimes and prompting congressional reform.

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