Privacy and Civil Liberties Report Finds NSA bulk phone records program illegal and ineffective

Earlier this afternoon, I emailed info@pclob.gov in search of the report that the New York Times  and Washington Post had obtained and reported upon this morning. 2 hours later, I received a response: www.pclob.gov. There, visitors can now find, download and read a “Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” and separate statements by Elisebeth Collins Cook  Rachel Brand. As Charlie Savage and Ellen Nakashima reported, Cook and Brand dissented from the report’s recommendation to end the collection of phone records under the 215 programs of the USA Patriot Act.

The privacy and civil liberties board’s report is strongly critical of the impact that mass surveillance has upon the privacy and civil liberties of American citizens, along with billions of other people around the world.

“The Section 215 bulk telephone records program lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value. As a result, the Board recommends that the government end the program.”

PCLOB Board Members meet with President Obama on June 21, 2013​. Photo by Pete Souza.

PCLOB Board Members meet with President Obama on June 21, 2013​. Photo by Pete Souza.

While President Obama met with the board and heard their recommendations prior to his speech last week, his administration is disputing its legal analysis.

“We disagree with the board’s analysis on the legality,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, in an e-mail to Bloomberg News. “The administration believes that the program is lawful.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) was also critical of the report’s findings. “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,” he said in a statement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation hailed the report as a vindication of its position on the consitutionality of the programs.

“The board’s other recommendations—increasing transparency and changing the FISA court in important ways—similarly reflect a nearly universal consensus that significant reform is needed,” wrote Mark Rumold, a staff attorney. “In the coming weeks, PCLOB is set to release a second report addressing the NSA’s collection under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. We hope that the board will apply similar principles and recognize the threat of mass surveillance to the privacy rights of all people, not just American citizens.”

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