NSA Telephone Spying Is Illegal and Useless, Asserts Obama's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board


NSA Spying Protest

Last summer, President Barack Obama asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to look into the effectiveness and legalities of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. The Board was especially to investigate the NSA's clandestine collection of essentially all of the phone records of Americans. The PCLOB was established to monitor the activities of federal law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and spy agencies in an effort to make sure that the executive branch is not violating the civil liberties of Americans.

According to the Washington Post and the New York Times, the PCLOB report, which will be issued today, finds that the NSA's massive domestic surveillance program is illegal and largely useless and should be ended. From the Times:

The program "lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215 [of the PATRIOT Act], 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 panel further noted, as the Post reports:

"We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation," said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. "Moreover, 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."…

"The Board believes that the Section 215 program has contributed only minimal value in combating terrorism beyond what the government already achieves through these and other alternative means," the report said. "Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government's efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations."

The Board explicitly rejected claims made by NSA enablers that the agencies massive telephone spying program could have prevented the 9/11 atrocities or helped disrupt the New York City subway bombing plot.

The PCLOB report finds that the NSA claim that the telephone calling data of all Americans is "relevant to an authorized investigation" is an absurd interpretation of the PATRIOT Act. The Post reports that …

… the board found that it is impossible that all the records collected — billions daily — could be relevant to a single investigation "without redefining that word in a manner that is circular, unlimited in scope."…"At its core, the approach boils down to the proposition that essentially all telephone records are relevant to essentially all international terrorism investigations," the report said. This approach, it said, "at minimum, is in deep tension with the statutory requirement that items obtained through a Section 215 order be sought for 'an investigation,' not for the purpose of enhancing the government's counterterrorism capabilities generally."

The Board rejected the proposal that there should be a central repository holding data on the phone calls of all Americans. Federal agencies can seek data from individual telephone companies on a case-by-case basis using constitutionally authorized procedures, e.g., warrants issued on the basis of probable cause.

President Obama was briefed on the Board's findings before his speech last Friday in which he outlined a couple of very feeble proposals for reforming the NSA's unconstitutional domestic spying operations. He evidently didn't listen to his own oversight board.

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  1. Obama said “The Board has made their ruling. Now let them enforce it.”

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  2. “illegal and useless”

    An apt description of just about everything the government does.

    1. If it’s ‘illegal and useless’ expect more of it.

      I’m feeling really cynical today.

      1. No reason not to be. They didn’t build the CNCI data center to have it sit useless and empty. If they don’t fill it with phone records, they’ll fill it with something.

  3. Hey, guess what isn’t mentioned at all anywhere on the front page of ThinkProgress?

    1. I’m guessing that ThinkProgress is one of those outlets that laps up Obo’s sweat at the gym?

    2. It is actually getting top billing at MSNDC. Amazing


    3. Or what my Obot acquaintances aren’t talking about?

  4. So?
    He’ll appoint another board, since this one was (RETHUG! BUSH! OBSTRUCTIONIST!) and see if that one says what he likes.
    If not, he’ll try again. he’s the king and he can do that.

  5. lol, you gotta bekidding right?


  6. We’ll seriously take your suggestions under consideration. We’ll get back with you after I’m out of office.

    1. Well that all depends. I think you’ll find that if TEAM RED gets elected to the presidency, TEAM BLUE will make rolling these things back their number 1 lame duck priority

  7. He evidently didn’t listen to his own oversight board.

    Nearly all government officials, regardless of any sworn oath to abide by it, see the Constitution as outdated, unrealistic, and a major pain in the ass.

    The idea that Obama would even need an advisory committee to deal what are glaring violations of the Constitution is a pretty stark illustration of his utter lack of commitment to his oath of office (which is, of course, just another one of his many similarities to Bush).

    1. I’ve heard stories from Constitutional judges who said their main job was to get around the Constitution.

      Basically, legislators would come to them with legislation that was in obvious violation of the Constitution, and the job of the judge was to come up with a clever interpretation to justify it.

      1. and penaltax must be at the head of the list

    2. These people that view “the Constitution as outdated, unrealistic, and a major pain in the ass” is the reason why we have the Constitution. The framers understood that you can not trust anyone with the power of government.

      1. It comes from the colleges. Increasingly top people in government are out of the Ivy Leagues and have been taught there is no such thing as objective truth or meaning.

        1. Principals, not principles.

        2. Objective knowledge is impossible. Postmodernists objectively know that.

  8. Why can’t defeating Obamacare be as easy?

  9. What do those guys know? Did they get the straight dope? You know, the special reports Mike Rogers gets, laying out in detail how Putin recruited Snowden as a sleeper agent and paid him in diamonds and platinum bars to lay bare this nation to attack.

    1. Snowden was working for the Russians. That totally absolves the NSA of any wrong doing. Didn’t you know that Brooks?

    2. The “Snowden worked for the Russians” theory is amusing. The idea that the Russians would develop him as an asset and then expose everything to the world is ridiculous. If Snowden was on the Russian payroll, he’d still be at the NSA, quietly collecting data and passing it to his Russian handlers…

      1. Yeah. The guy had access to everything the NSA did. The Russians would totally give up such an asset just so they could embarrass Obama. They are just that racist.

        1. Unless the program was totally useless for their purposes as well. Then I could totally see them fomenting controversy over it.

          But we still end up at costly, illegal, and useless, just via Moscow.

          1. So you are telling me the information was so worthless even our enemies didn’t want it. Yeah, I could see that.

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  12. Yes Yes Yes! The more studies, the more useless this program is proven to be, and the closer to elimination.

  13. Wasn’t this civil liberties oversight board one of the lame-ass responses he specifically pointed to as a measure to rebuild the people’s trust in the program?

    Admittedly, I expected the outcome to be a rubber-stamp from that board or a bunch of milquetoast meaningless recommendations, I didn’t expect them to accidentally step up to the plate. Still, the unmitigated gall that it takes to publicly hold this board up as part of the feel-good solution and then turn around four months later and state that “we don’t agree with their recommendations, next question?” — jeez, it’s just nauseating. I mean, even people who *aren’t* libertarians have to cringe at that level of rank hypocrisy don’t they?

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