U.S. court will not halt NSA phone spy program before ban

A U.S. appeals court on Thursday refused to immediately halt the government’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records during a “transition” period to a new federal scheme that bans the controversial anti-terrorism surveillance.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said it would not disturb Congress’ decision to provide a 180-day period for an “orderly transition” to a new, targeted surveillance system from the sweeping National Security Agency program that the court found illegal on May 7.

“An abrupt end to the program would be contrary to the public interest in effective surveillance of terrorist threats, and Congress thus provided a 180-day transition period,” Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel. “Under the circumstances, we will defer to that reasonable decision.”

The NSA program collected “metadata” such as phone numbers dialed and call durations, but not call contents. It was first disclosed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Thursday’s decision rejected a request by the American Civil Liberties Union for a preliminary injunction to stop the program until the narrower scheme begins on Nov. 29.

Alex Abdo, an ACLU lawyer, said that while the group disagreed with the latest decision, “all Americans should celebrate” the imminent end to bulk collections.

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