US Watchdog: Surveillance by NSA Is Illegal, Must End

Privacy board slams legal rationale behind the program

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 23, 2014 10:15 AM CST

(Newser) – President Obama's proposed NSA reforms aren't nearly enough, says an independent federal agency that serves as a privacy watchdog. In fact, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board thinks the NSA's surveillance is illegal and should be shut down, the New York Times reports. The board takes particular aim at the legal underpinnings of the surveillance, Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The government maintains that the law gives the NSA a green light to collect all phone records in the US, but the board disagrees. The law requires that such records be relevant to an investigation, and it's impossible that the billions obtained daily could be used for a single investigation "without redefining that word in a manner that is circular, unlimited in scope," concludes the report, per the Washington Post.

The NSA surveillance "lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value," the report reads. Three of the board's five members agreed the program should be shut down, while the other two thought it could continue with modifications. Techdirt, meanwhile, observes that while Obama was advised on the board's findings, his announcement last week was likely timed to beat the report to press.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board holds a workshop on surveillance programs last July.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board holds a workshop on surveillance programs last July.   (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
President Obama speaks about National Security Agency surveillance on Jan. 17.
President Obama speaks about National Security Agency surveillance on Jan. 17.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md.
The National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
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