Mass collection of Americans’ phone call records by the National Security Agency is illegal and should be abandoned, according to a detailed legal and operational review of the program by an independent congressional review board.
In its first major act, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, set up as an independent agency in 2007 but only recently fully operational, released a 238-page report on the NSA program Thursday.
The board examined the legal foundation for the NSA metadata program that collects billions of records on the time, call duration, and phone numbers called. The practice, it found, was a clear threat to US civil liberties and of “limited value” with no significant impact on curbing terrorist plots.
The legal foundation for the program, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, was weak and “does not provide an adequate basis to support this program,” the board reported. Moreover, even in the dozen cases examined by the board where the metadata linked contacts to a terrorism suspect, most benefits were modest and “limited to corroborating information that was obtained independently by the FBI,” the board report found.
“Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government’s efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations,” the report concluded.