May 7, 2015 · 1 minute

A federal appeals court has found that the National Security Agency's collection of millions of Americans' phone records isn't authorized under the Patriot Act.

This means the collection of those call records is, at least according to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit judges who issued this ruling, illegal.

The ruling was made after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit alleging the NSA's collections program is illegal and violates the Constitution.

Here's how the New York Times explains the importance of this ruling, along with an excerpt from the decision:

It is the first time a higher-level court in the regular judicial system has reviewed the program, which since 2006 has repeatedly been approved in secret by a national security court.

The court, in a decision written by Judge Gerard E. Lynch, held that the Patriot Act provision, known as Section 215, 'cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.'

But the Wall Street Journal explains that even though this counts as a "win" for privacy advocates, it could do little to change the NSA's programs:

The judges didn't order the collection to stop, noting that the legislative debate and the looming expiration of Section 215 will force action on the issue one way or another. The judges also note that if Congress decides to approve some version of the phone data collection program in coming days, then the privacy issue could be revisited in court.

Today's ruling means that the ACLU's case, which was originally dismissed by a lower court, will be allowed to proceed. Lawmakers are also preparing a bill that would end the NSA's bulk collection programs and also include various reforms.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]