The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said President Obama should shut down the NSA’s domestic surveillance program and destroy the phone data and calling records it now holds. The board called the data collection illegal and not justified by the Patriot Act, in a report it released Jan. 23.
According to the report, Section 215 of the Patriot Act is “designed to enable the FBI to acquire records that the FBI has in its possession, as part of an FBI investigation, when those records are relevant to the investigation.” The NSA’s bulk telephone records collection “bears almost no resemblance to that description.”
Good Faith, Not Legal
The board stated that it appreciated that the program was conducted in good faith in order to combat terrorism, yet “Section 215 does not provide an adequate legal basis to support the program.”
It provided key points to the president before he announced his policy preferences on Jan. 17. Obama has defended the NSA surveillance program.
The president’s panel of experts had a far more positive evaluation of the NSA’s actions than the board, finding that it did not abuse civil liberties and that its actions were constitutional. That group, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, recommended that the NSA should limit which calls it collected and that private providers, not the NSA, should hold the data. The government should get court orders to query the data, according to the Review Group.
Need Clear Explanations
Along with its call for ending bulk phone surveillance, the Oversight Board report outlined 11 other recommendations on surveillance policy, calling for more government transparency and other reforms aimed at bolstering civil liberties and privacy protections. The board called for special attorneys to provide independent views in some proceedings before the secret spy court, as opposed to Obama’s plan for a panel of experts that would participate at times. The board also urged the administration to provide the public with clear explanations of the legal authority behind any surveillance affecting Americans.
President George W. Bush established the first version of the board. It is required to be bipartisan. Not more than three members can belong to one party. Of the current board, two are Bush appointees, former Bush administration Justice Department lawyers Rachel Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook. They dissented from the findings of the larger group.
“I am concerned about the detrimental effect this superfluous second-guessing can have on our national security agencies and their staff,” said Brand, who as a Justice Department lawyer defended USA Patriot Act legislation that provided the NSA with its authority to make the bulk phone collections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.