A federal watchdog that advises the President of the United States on privacy matters said that the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk phone records is illegal and should be shut down.
“The … bulk telephone records program lacks a viable legal foundation,” raises “serious threats to privacy and civil liberties” and is of “only limited value” to the war against terrorism, a 238-page report released by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”
The board is an independent body established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. It advises the President and other senior executive branch officials to ensure that concerns with respect to privacy and civil liberties are appropriately considered in the implementation of all laws, regulations, and executive branch policies related to efforts to protect the U.S. against terrorism.
A majority of the five-member board approved that conclusion, but two members rejected the view that the program was illegal, the New York Times reported. The body was united in 10 recommendation, among which were calling for the deletion of raw phone records after three years instead of five and stricter controls on access to search results.
The board said the program creates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments.
It is still not clear if Obama will accept all or just parts of the board’s recommendations.
Last week, Obama called for changes to the way the NSA monitors and gathers data on telephone records of Americans. He said he wanted a “transition that will end the … bulk metadata program as it currently exists.”
The announcement was seen by many as a move to allay privacy concerns of U.S. citizens as well as states allied to the U.S. following the controversy kicked up by revelations made by former NSA security contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s surveillance program, codenamed Prism.