updated 02:14 pm EST, Thu January 23, 2014
Collection programs such as Prism is illegal according to review board
An independent federal watchdog has decided that the National Security Agency's (NSA) phone call logging and collection activity is illegal. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board advises that the call log collection provided "minimal" benefits to current counter-terrorism operations and should be stopped, in a 238-page report set to be released today.
The board found that the NSA's program "lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215 [of the Patriot Act], 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," reports the New York Times. Three out of the five-member board believed that programs such as Prism are illegal, with two dissenters, though the panel was unanimous in offering ten other recommendations, such as the deletion of raw phone records after three years, down from the current five-year limit, and tighter access to the results of search.
The two that did not agree with the claim it was illegal Rachel L. Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook, were Justice Department lawyers in the George W. Bush administration. Both wrote that the board should have analyzed policy alone and not the legalities, with Ms. Brand suggesting that declaring it as illegal could cause a loss of morale and cause agencies to become too cautious in their efforts to protect the United States.
President Barack Obama announcing data collection reforms
Some aspects of the recommendations in the report were included in President Obama's speech late last week, announcing reforms to how the US government uses surveillance data. Though the shorter terms of holding data was not mentioned in his speech, recommendations such as limiting access to records of people two steps away from a suspect rather than three and the usage of advocates were brought up.
The report also suggests that the program turned out to be less useful than first intended, claiming to find "no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discover of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack."