The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released this afternoon its report on the National Security Agency's bulk telephone surveillance program. A quick perusal suggests that the report could have a tremendously positive impact in the current debate over reining in the national security surveillance state. I have obviously not had time to read it all yet, but here is a particularly choice passage:
Beyond such individual privacy intrusions, permitting the government to routinely collect the calling records of the entire nation fundamentally shifts the balance of power between the state and its citizens. With its powers of compulsion and criminal prosecution, the government poses unique threats to privacy when it collects data on its own citizens. Government collection of personal information on such a massive scale also courts the ever-present danger of "mission creep." An even more compelling danger is that personal information collected by the government will be misused to harass, blackmail, or intimidate, or to single out for scrutiny particular individuals or groups. To be clear, the Board has seen no evidence suggesting that anything of the sort is occurring at the NSA and the agency's incidents of non-compliance with the rules approved by the FISC have generally involved unintentional misuse. Yet, while the danger of abuse may seem remote, given historical abuse of personal information by the government during the twentieth century, the risk is more than merely theoretical.
Moreover, the bulk collection of telephone records can be expected to have a chilling effect on the free exercise of speech and association, because individuals and groups engaged in sensitive or controversial work have less reason to trust in the confidentiality of their relationships as revealed by their calling patterns. Inability to expect privacy vis-à-vis the government in one's telephone communications means that people engaged in wholly lawful activities—but who for various reasons justifiably do not wish the government to know about their communications—must either forgo such activities, reduce their frequency, or take costly measures to hide them from government surveillance. The telephone records program thus hinders the ability of advocacy organizations to communicate confidentially with members, donors, legislators, whistleblowers, members of the public, and others. For similar reasons, awareness that a record of all telephone calls is stored in a government database may have debilitating consequences for communication between journalists and sources.
Could it be "game over" for domestic surveillance and NSA stooges in Congress? I will say it again, "Thank You Edward Snowden." For more background see my blogpost, "NSA Telephone Spying Is Illegal and Useless, Asserts Obama's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board."