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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a lower court ruling that said the program likely violates the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches.
But the impact of the appeals court's ruling is uncertain because Congress has passed legislation designed to replace the program over the next few months. The appeals court sent the case back for a judge to determine what further details about the program the government must provide.
The ruling is the latest in a succession of decisions in federal courts in Washington and New York that at various points threatened the constitutionality of the NSA's surveillance program, but have so far upheld the amassing of records from U.S. domestic phone customers.
The appeals court ruled that challengers to the program have not shown "a substantial likelihood" that they will win their case on the merits.
Judge Janice Rogers Brown said it was possible the government would refuse to provide information that could help the challengers win their case. In a separate opinion, Judge Stephen Williams said the challengers would need to show they actually were targeted by the surveillance program.
Judge David Sentelle dissented in part, saying he would have thrown the case out entirely because the plaintiffs offered no proof they were ever harmed.
All three judges were appointees of Republican presidents.
The lawsuit was brought by Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer, and Charles Strange, the father of a cryptologist technician who was killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in 2013 that the collection was likely unconstitutional, but he put that decision on hold pending a government appeal.
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