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Ear to the Ground

Privacy Board Finds NSA Phone Data Surveillance System Illegal ... and a Dud

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Posted on Jan 23, 2014

  Hang it up? President Obama, pictured here during Friday’s speech about the NSA, is a stronger defender of the agency’s telephone record surveillance program than the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

A five-member board tasked with evaluating the National Security Agency’s telephone data surveillance program has come away with a distinctly different take on the matter from that of the president.

In fact, from what the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found, President Obama might want to brush up on that whole constitutional law thing. CNN brought word of the board’s report Thursday:

The National Security Agency program that collects data on nearly every U.S. phone call isn’t legal, a privacy review board said Thursday in a newly released report.
Moreover, the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said it’s been largely useless in thwarting terrorism.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” the board wrote in the report released Thursday.

The board said it had identified only one instance in which the program helped authorities identify a terrorist in the last seven years. But the board said law enforcement would have found the suspect anyway, even without the NSA program.

Unfortunately, although the board’s pronouncements echo (if not amplify) the mounting criticism about the NSA’s surveillance practices, its job was about evaluation, not legislation.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

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