Independent watchdog says NSA program is illegal and should end

By on January 23, 2014, 12:15 PM
nsa, legal, surveillance, privacy and civil liberties oversight board

Less than a week after President Barack Obama announced plans to overhaul controversial NSA phone data collection program, an independent review board has questioned the program's legality. According to a Washington Post report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which became an independent agency in 2007, has concluded that the program is illegal and should end.

The five member board, which was established at the urging of the 9/11 commission, said that the Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, statute on which the NSA's program is based, doesn't provide a complete basis to support the program.

The board didn't agree with the reasoning given by many federal surveillance court judges in saying that the program cannot be grounded in section 215, which requires that the records sought should be relevant to an authorized investigation. It said that billions of records, that are collected by the NSA on a daily basis, cannot be relevant to a single investigation.

The federal privacy watchdog opposed the idea of companies holding data for longer than they do now, and also didn't agree with having a third-party to hold the data. It said that even without the NSA's program, the government could seek phone records from the companies through traditional court orders. A similar thought was echoed by the presidentially appointed review panel.

In response to the argument that the program was necessary especially after investigation agencies failed to detect Khalid al-Mihdhar, an al Qaeda terrorist, who was present in the U.S. before the 9/11 attacks, the board said that the failure was due to a "lack of information sharing among federal agencies, not of a lack of surveillance capabilities”.

The board's findings are laid out in a 238-page report, which is scheduled to be released Thursday. The report presents a detailed analysis of the metadata program's value and legality.

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