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US privacy board finds NSA phone surveillance program illegal


US privacy board finds NSA phone surveillance program illegal

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent agency created by Congress to protect American privacy under anti-terrorism laws, issued a report on Thursday calling the NSA's metadata program illegal and saying that it should be ended. In a 3-2 vote, the five-member board said that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the statute upon which the program was based, does not provide an adequate basis to support the program.

This assertion rejects the reasoning of at least 15 federal surveillance court judges and the Justice Department. According to their statement, all of the records collected could not possibly all be relevant to a single investigation and that the approach can essentially be summarized as treating all telephone records as being relevant to all terrorism investigations. The board's dissenters, along with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the metadata program, with Rogers calling the board's legal analysis unwarranted.

The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Earlier this month US President Barack Obama announced detailed plans to change surveilance policy, curbing the abilities of intelligence agencies to collect and use American phone data. Also this month the US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an appeal to a federal district court ruling that held that the NSA program is likely unconstitutional. In September the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court released a previously classified opinion explaining why an NSA program to keep records of Americans' phone calls is constitutional.

Also in September the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the Obama administration to curb the FBI's surveillance powers. In August the Council of Europe expressed concern over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Edward Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act, under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns.

(Published by Jurist – January 23, 2014)

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