In 2013, noted conservative political troublemaker Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch filed suit against the National Security Agency (NSA) arguing that the mass metadata collection of Americans happening under the aegis of Section 215 of the Patriot Act was illegal. He won his case in the district court covering Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, his victory was stripped away today when the Court of Appeals reversed the decision, on technical standing issues, and sent it back to the trial court. The issue at hand, as has always been a problem with these lawsuits, is proving that any one particular identifiable person has had his or her metadata collected under this program, something the Obama administration has managed to keep from verifying. Without proving that the government has collected your metadata, how can you sue the government to stop it?
That's what happened here. The judges did not rule wither or not the mass metadata collection was legal or constitutional. Rather, as one judge noted, "Plaintiffs lack direct evidence that records involving their calls have been collected."
Regardless, the days are numbered for this particular type of bulk surveillance. Congress allowed Section 215 of the Patriot Act to sunset and replaced it with the USA Freedom Act in June. The Freedom Act doesn't eliminate bulk metadata collection entirely, but requires more restrictive search terms and forbids grabbing all records from a phone or internet service provider. But the Freedom Act gave the NSA six months to keep collecting data under the old system, and despite Section 215 expiring, they've said they're going have their six months of mass surveillance during the transition.
Read more about today's decision, and the decision itself, here.