A Victory Against the Police State
An independent executive branch board has concluded that the National Security Agency’s long-running program to collect billions of Americans’ phone records is illegal and should end.
In a strongly worded report to be issued Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) said that the statute upon which the program was based, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program.”
The board’s conclusion goes further than President Obama, who said in a speech Friday that he thought the NSA’s database of records should be moved out of government hands but did not call for an outright halt to the program. The board had shared its conclusions with Obama in the days leading up to his speech reports the Washington Post.
The divided panel also concluded that the program raises serious threats to civil liberties, has shown limited value in countering terrorism and is not sustainable from a policy perspective.
“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”
The 238-page report is arguably the most extensive analysis to date of the program’s statutory and constitutional underpinnings, as well as of its practical value.
It rejects the reasoning of at least 15 federal surveillance court judges and the Justice Department in saying that the program cannot be grounded in Section 215. That statute requires that records sought by the government — in this case phone numbers dialed, call times and durations, but not call content — be relevant to an authorized investigation.
But the board found that it is impossible that all the records collected — billions daily — could be relevant to a single investigation “without redefining that word in a manner that is circular, unlimited in scope.”
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