As if the fact that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found the NSA's bulk telephone collection "has shown minimal value in safeguarding the nation from terrorism," the 238-page report concluded it was illegal in several ways and violates privacy. Coincidentally, on the day of the release of the 9/11 Commission-prompted report, Edward Snowden (in an online chat) stated, "It's not good for our country, it's not good for the world, and I wasn't going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me." Indeed, one wonders if this would have ever come to light; but now following these findings that the program is not authorized by the Patriot Act the panel may give ammunition to critics in Congress and fuel legal challenges presenting a problem for President Obama who said last week (instead of waiting for the report) that he would allow the program to continue.
The report's findings are damning (via Yahoo)...
A report released by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded the NSA's huge phone metadata program is illegal in several ways, and provides little or no value to the fight against terrorism.
The 238-page report said the program "has shown minimal value in safeguarding the nation from terrorism."
And the panel said the program is not authorized by the Patriot Act, the law passed following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
It said it violates constitutional guarantees of free speech and protection against unreasonable searches, and also fails to comply with a federal privacy law.
Moreover, it said the program threatens to have "debilitating consequences for journalism" because "sources in a position to offer crucial information about newsworthy topics may remain silent out of fear that their telephone records could be used to trace their contacts."
The report also said the NSA stretches the interpretation of what may be "relevant" to a terrorism investigation.
The board, which was set up to create safeguards for privacy and civil liberties for stepped-up anti-terrorism efforts, rejected the notion the NSA program could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.
But the politicians and their lackeys are defending it (via Bloomberg)...
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence committee, has defended the collection of bulk phone records as necessary to stop terrorism and vowed to fight efforts to end it.
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, who has been supportive of the surveillance tools, seized on lack of unanimity on the board in an e-mailed statement today.
“In 38 times over the past seven years, 17 federal judges have examined this issue and found the telephone metadata program to be legal, concluding this program complies with both the statutory text and with the U.S. Constitution,” Rogers said. “I don’t believe the Board should go outside its expertise to opine on the effectiveness of counterterrorism programs.”
Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, downplayed the legal impact of the report.
“I think you can fairly describe it as an amicus brief written by three people,” said Baker, now with Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington. “This is free advice to the court from a board that doesn’t have any particular expertise on the legal issues.”
Edward Snowden praised the report's findings in an online chat today via Free Snowden webste:
"it's time to end "bulk collection" which is a euphemism for mass surveillance. There is no simple justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a 0% success rate. In light of another independent confirmation of this fact, i think Americans should look to the White House and Congress to close the book entirely on the 215BR provision."
"The hundred-year old law under which I've been charged... forbids a public interest defense," he said in a question-and-answer session.
"This is especially frustrating, because it means there's no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury."
Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, said the report supports his contention that the NSA programs violate US laws and the constitution.
He added that the NSA is "setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing."
"It's not good for our country, it's not good for the world, and I wasn't going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me."
"The reactions of those I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from deeply concerned to appalled, but no one was willing to risk their jobs, families, and possibly even freedom."
But the finds of the report could still be a problem for the President (via Bloomberg)...
In December, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, in Washington, ruled that the program probably violates privacy rights...
The report “lends enormous weight” to Leon’s ruling
In line with the conclusion of the panel’s majority, Leon, who allowed a lawsuit against the NSA to proceed, said he wasn’t convinced at this point that “the NSA’s database has ever truly served the purpose of rapidly identifying terrorists in time-sensitive investigations.”
“It’s clear that momentum is building and more and more people are coming to appreciate how truly threatening and intrusive some of these bulk collection programs can be,” Black said in an interview.
The bombshell of the report’s central conclusion may explain why Obama decided to announce his proposals on Jan. 17, before the panel’s report was made public. Obama defended U.S. electronic spying as a bulwark against terrorism.
“I do not think we should just accept bulk collection as a given,” Jim Dempsey, speaking for the panel’s majority, said today at a meeting where the report was adopted. “We have to go back to the fundamental question: should we be collecting bulk data and under what standards?”
The board’s conclusions present a challenge for President Barack Obama, who is being pressed by phone and Internet companies, foreign governments, civil libertarians and some members of Congress to restructure the NSA’s surveillance activities following disclosure of the programs by former government contractor Edward Snowden.
The privacy panel has no authority to change the programs and Obama last week presented his own plan without waiting for the board’s report. The president said he would continue to allow government use of bulk phone records yet would prevent NSA from storing the data and require the agency get court approval to use it.
We leave it to Mr. Snowden to sum up the future:
Do you think it is possible for our democracy to recover from the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties? #AskSnowden
Yes. What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.