Since the revelation last year that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting time, location, and other metadata on most phone calls made in the United States, President Barack Obama has hinted that surveillance reforms may be necessary. In January, he gave a speech outlining a few of those reforms and called for the agency to tweak its collection methods.
But the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a bipartisan commission appointed by Congress, had a different idea: Don't mend the domestic spying programs, end them. They're illegal, and they're not helping.
The six-member board released a report in January saying that the PATRIOT Act, which the Obama administration has relied on to justify the legality of the NSA's bulk telephone surveillance activities, "does not provide an adequate legal basis" for the program. Among other problems, the spy agency collects information indiscriminately and in bulk, which runs afoul of the law's requirement that the information collected be specifically relevant to a particular investigation.
Also, it hasn't helped catch terrorists. "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 report notes. "We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack."