US federal watchdog calls for end to NSA phone records programme

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23 January 2014 | 0

In a report to be released Thursday, the US Privacy and Civil Liberties board has said the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records is illegal and should stop, according to the New York Times and the Washington Post, which received advance copies of the document.

The board is an independent federal agency, and the report marks its first comprehensive statement on the controversial programme disclosed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

According to reports, the document critiques the government’s legal rationale for the NSA programme – Section 215 of the Patriot Act – which was passed in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US It also questions the utility of the programme, looking closely at some investigations where it was used and saying that there was “no instance in which the programme directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”

The New York Times quoted the report as saying that the programme “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, 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. As a result, the board recommends that the government end the programme”.

The report recommends that raw phone records be deleted after three years rather than five, and the access to search results be limited further. Those recommendations were unanimous on the part of the five-member board, although two of the members, both former Justice Department lawyers during the George W. Bush administration, dissented from the finding that the programme was illegal and the recommendation that it be shut down entirely.

IDG News Service

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