January 23, 2014
Officials in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government all say that the mass surveillance on Americans is unnecessary:
- 3 Senators with top secret clearance “have reviewed this surveillance extensively and have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records has provided any intelligence of valuethat could not have been gathered through less intrusive means”
- Another Senator with top secret clearance agrees, and so does the congress member who wrote the Patriot Act, and more than 100 congress members from both parties
- As does the official panel created by President Obama to review NSA spying, made up of top former White House officials and other government insiders, including the head of counter-terrorism under Clinton and Bush and former deputy CIA director Michael J. Morrell
- A non-profit, bipartisan policy group says that NSA mass surveillance has no impact on terrorism
- CNN terrrorism expert Peter Bergen says that mass surveillance is not needed to stop another 9/11
- Former president Clinton (and apparently Carter, as well), agree that mass surveillance is unnecessary
- As do the chairs of the 9/11 Commission which was created by Congress and the White House
- As does the counter-terrorism czar under the Clinton and Bush administrations, Richard Clarke. And see this
A major new voice has just weighed in to agree: the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007, and which only recently became fully operational.
As the New York Times reports:
An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down. The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times ….
In its report, the board lays out what may be the most detailed critique of the government’s once-secret legal theory behind the program: that a law known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, can be legitimately interpreted as authorizing the N.S.A. to collect all calling records in the country.
The program “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 said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”
The report also … contains the first official acknowledgment that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court produced no judicial opinion detailing its legal rationale for the program until last August, even though it had been issuing orders to phone companies for the records and to the N.S.A. for how it could handle them since May 2006.
The privacy board was unanimous in recommending a series of immediate changes to the program.
In 2006, the Bush administration persuaded the surveillance court to begin authorizing the program based on the Patriot Act under a theory the Obama administration would later embrace.
But the privacy board’s report criticized that, saying that the legal theory was a“subversion” of the law’s intent, and that the program also violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
The report also scrutinizes in detail a handful of investigations in which the program was used, finding “no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”