The National Security Agency program that is responsible for collecting data on virtually every phone call made in the United States is not legal. This is according a report released on Thursday from a privacy review board. In addition, the five members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board say that the program was mostly ineffective in its purpose of stopping terrorist activity.
The board said in their report that they had not been able to identify even one occurrence involving a terrorist threat to United States citizens in which the outcome was affected by the programs assistance in a counter-terrorism measure. The board further stated in the report that it had only found one time in the last seven years in which the program helped government authorities in the identification of an actual terrorist. However, in that case, the board believes that the suspect would have been identified easily by local law enforcement anyway without any assistance from the National Security Agency program.
The board is not a legal entity and therefore, none of its recommendations have the power to change any government program. However, the material in the report does carry with it a blistering criticism of President Barack Obama’s legal arguments in favor of the program that tracks millions of telephone calls on a daily basis and collects data such as the telephone numbers involved, the time the calls are made, and the duration of the calls.
A majority of the board member agreed with criticism that has been leveled at the National Security Agency that asserts that the program may be in violation of the United States constitution. The board was originally formed as part of the United States government’s response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
According to a copy of the report given to CNN, the board said they concluded that there was existing policy of the National Security Agency that provided adequate legal grounds to support the existence of such a program. The report did grant that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is authorized to collect personal data in regards to a specific area under investigation. However, this does not refer to a bulk collection of irrelevant matter. Even so, the board continues, there is no authorization granted to the NSA for the collection of anything.
Last week, President Obama announced changes to the program. This announcement came after the release of a report from outside review board that was under presidential appointment. The National Security Agency must now ask a judge in every case that an analyst wants to examine data that has been collected. Eventually, the agency will no longer be allowed to be custodian of such collected information.
President Obama said that the review group was not able to show any proof that the database had been abused intentionally. He said he felt it necessary to keep the program running because of the original objective of protecting national security. One privacy advocate said the changes were strictly to appease the American public and would be largely ineffective. The advocate called the proposed changes “window dressing.”
The government is now debating their next step. One option is to require phone companies to hold all data. Still, there is also a proposed idea of creating a new agency responsible for collecting such information.
Editorial by Rick Hope