An independent oversight board with the responsibility to review National Security Agency surveillance tactics declared the program illegal and called for the Obama administration to end its mass collection of data on US citizens.
In a report scheduled for release Thursday and obtained by Fox News, the Privacy Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) will note the NSA collection policy raises “constitutional concerns” and it will say “The … bulk telephone records program lacks a viable legal foundation,” and it raises “serious threats to privacy and civil liberties” with “only limited value.”
Critics say NSA domestic spying failed to generate results
Critics have charged the NSA spying program has failed to generate the anticipated results while threatening the constitutional underpinnings of the US democratic system, and the report bolstered this viewpoint.
“The connections revealed by the extensive database of telephone records gathered under the program will necessarily include relationships established among individuals and groups for political, religious, and other expressive purposes,” the report will say, according to Fox News. “Compelled disclosure to the government of information revealing these associations can have a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights.” The report adds that the program “implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments.”
Rejecting claims that the NSA domestic data collection program was necessary to plug holes in intelligence stemming from the September 11, 2001 attacks, the report took aim at claims made by the intelligence community that terrorist calls from Khalid al-Mihdhar from a safe house in San Diego to Yemen would have been detected with the program. “The failure to identify Mihdhar’s presence in the United States stemmed primarily from a lack of information sharing among federal agencies, not of a lack of surveillance capabilities,” the report said. “This was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to connect enough dots.”
PCLOB independent board encouraged by Obama to study NSA
The PCLOB was created by an independent commission after the 9/11 attacks with the goal to balance counterterrorism policy with civil liberties issues and was recently encouraged to study the NSA programs by President Obama and congressional leaders, according to the Fox News report.
Staunch defenders of the NSA’s domestic collection tactics, such as Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Mike Rogers (R-MI), were expected to be dismissive of the report. “I am disappointed that three members of the Board decided to step well beyond their policy and oversight role and conducted a legal review of a program that has been thoroughly reviewed,” the Michigan Congressman and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement, adding that federal judges have found the program to be legal.
The PCLOB recommendations go significantly farther than President Obama indicated was necessary in his speech on the topic, and pools show a majority oppose the NSA. In a Pew Research Center / USA Today poll released Monday 53% of respondents disapprove of the NSA’s collection of telephone and internet data in anti-terrorism efforts.
Additional transparency, independent court review
In addition for a call to curtail NSA domestic spying activities, the PCLOP report requested additional transparency and civil liberties protection, specifically requesting independent attorneys to represent the interests of citizens before the secret spy court. The FISA court’s opinions and key documents “describing the government’s legal analysis should be made public so there can be a free and open debate regarding the law’s scope,” the board report said.
“When the government collects all of a person’s telephone records, storing them for five years in a government database that is subjected to high-speed digital searching and analysis, the privacy implications go far beyond what can be revealed by the metadata of a single telephone call,” the board report says.