Privacy Watchdog: NSA Phone Snooping Must End

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board report condemns NSA's phone data collection

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A government watchdog said Thursday that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records is illegal and should be shut down.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board set up by Congress in 2007 says in its report that the program exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has “minimal” benefits for national security. The panel claims there’s no legal basis for the bulk collection of telephone records, concluding “we believe the program must be ended.”

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” the board says in the 238-page report.

The report goes a step farther than last month’s report from a panel appointed by President Barack Obama in rejecting the option to move bulk data out of the hands of the government and requiring communication providers or a third party to hold the data.

In a series of recommendations, it urges the government to delete data sooner and restrict access to call records of people that are more than two degrees – and not three – from a suspect. The report concluded, with support from three of the five board members, that the practice should be shut down.

The report renews criticism of the National Security Agency’s practices a week after Obama announced planned reforms without actually ending the collection of mass data.

Privacy activists applauded the advisory board’s rebuke of the NSA practices.  

“The board’s report makes even clearer that the government’s surveillance policies, as well as our system of oversight, are in need of far-reaching reform,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “The report should spur immediate action by both the administration and Congress.”