Federal Watchdog Group: NSA Bulk Collection Program Illegal, Should be Shut Down
January 23, 2014 12:16 PM
A law for the FBI may have opened Pandora's box for the NSA's bulk collection of data
While the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is in hot water for many aspects of its surveillance programs, one hot button topic is the bulk collection of phone records, and a new watchdog report said it's illegal and should be shut down.
The New York Times
, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board -- a federal privacy watchdog consisting of five members -- submitted a 238-page report on the NSA's spy programs, specifically focusing on a law that could have opened the doors to the NSA's bulk collection of records.
The report highlighted that a law -- Section 215 of the Patriot Act -- which allows the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect business records as long as they're relevant to an investigation, could be interpreted as authorization for the NSA to collect all phone records in the U.S.
"[The 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,” said the report. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”
Three of the five-member board agreed that the program was illegal. The other two said, "the board should have focused exclusively on policy and left legal analysis to the courts."
But the board agreed unanimously on 10 other recommendations, including stricter access to search results, deleting raw phone records after three years instead of five and limiting analysts’ access to the call records of people no further than two links removed from a suspect instead of three.
The board was unanimous in recommending a series of immediate changes to the NSA program, where three the changes as part of a "brief wind-down period," and the other two wanted them to be structural and allow the program to continue.
Just last week, U.S. President Barack Obama
announced changes to be made in the NSA
after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked the agency's far-reaching spy programs throughout 2013. Obama discussed solutions like making a judicial finding required before looking to the database as a way of scaling back spying on American devices and finding a comfortable balance between the use of the bulk collection program -- which he said could be necessary for countering terrorist attacks -- and the privacy of American citizens. But many worry that these are empty promises meant to make people feel secure when behind the scenes, nothing really changes at all.
The New York Times
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