A US court has ruled that the eavesdropping National Security Agency can temporarily resume its bulk collection of Americans' telephone records.
The controversial program, exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was rocked in May by an appeals court decision ruling that the USA Patriot Act had never authorised the NSA to collect Americans' phone records in bulk.
A new law, called the Freedom Act, which substantially reformed and narrowed the bulk phone data program, was signed by US President Barack Obama a day after the existing program lapsed on June 1.
The Freedom Act also allowed the existing surveillance program to continue for a six-month transition period, but it remained in legal limbo pending today's ruling by a judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"In passing the USA Freedom Act, Congress clearly intended to end bulk data collection ... But what it took away with one hand, it gave back - for a limited time - with another," wrote Michael Mosman, a judge on the surveillance court.
In his ruling, Mosman rejected the May ruling by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan that the Patriot Act had never authorised the NSA to collect Americans' phone records in bulk.
"Second Circuit rulings are not binding on the FISC and this court respectfully disagrees with that court’s analysis, especially in view of the intervening enactment of the USA Freedom Act," he wrote.
The NSA program collects and analyses metadata about Americans' phone calls, such as the number dialed, and the time and length of the call.
The Freedom Act requires companies such as Verizon Communications and AT&T to collect and store telephone records the same way that they do now for billing purposes.
But instead of routinely feeding US intelligence agencies such data, the companies will be required to turn it over only in response to a government request approved by the FISC.