US privacy board says no illegitimate activity in overseas surveillance programme

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2 July 2014 | 0

A US government privacy oversight board has found that the National Security Agency and other agencies have not misused the provisions of the country’s overseas surveillance program, but cautioned that certain aspects of the program, such as the incidental collection of communications of US persons, raises privacy concerns.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said late Tuesday in a pre-release version of its report that it has seen no trace of illegitimate activity around information collected by the government under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or any attempt to intentionally circumvent legal limits.

But it said that the scope of the incidental collection of US persons’ communications and the use of queries to search the information collected under the programme for the communications of specific US persons pushed the program “close to the line of constitutional reasonableness”.

“Such aspects include the unknown and potentially large scope of the incidental collection of US persons’ communications, the use of ‘about’ collection to acquire Internet communications that are neither to nor from the target of surveillance, and the use of queries to search for the communications of specific US persons within the information that has been collected,” the report said.

The PCLOB, however, fell short of the expectations of civil rights groups and some lawmakers who have recommended curbs on backdoor snooping on people in the US.

The US House of Representatives last month approved a proposal to limit the surveillance programs of the NSA by requiring it to get a court-ordered warrant to search US records in its possession.
 Under current rules, the NSA is not prohibited from querying US communications inadvertently collected under the foreign surveillance programme.

The PCLOB instead made ten recommendations aimed at arriving at a better balance between privacy, civil liberties and national security in the working of the Section 702 program. They include changes in the targeting procedure, the procedure for queries using US person identifiers, and the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the certification process.

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