NSA Bulk Metadata Collection Is Illegal: Government Oversight Board

John Glaser, January 23, 2014

The NSA’s bulk collection of every American’s telephone call records is illegal, according to the federal government’s independent review panel, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

The NSA’s interprets Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits the F.B.I. to obtain business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, as granting it the authority to collect the call records of all Americans and hold them for years for querying. The Oversight Board says no dice.

New York Times:

An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.

…The program “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,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.”

It’s hard to get any clearer than that, but it’s worth remembering that this review panel isn’t alone. This comes on the heels of the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon that the phone metadata program is “almost certainly” unconstitutional.

A ruling from the FISA court in 2011 found that the NSA “frequently and systematically violated” statutory laws governing how intelligence agents can search databases of Americans’ telephone communications and that NSA analysts deliberately misled judges about their surveillance activities in order to get court approval.

There is also bipartisan agreement in Congress that the NSA has systematically violated the law. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the author of the Patriot Act, including its Section 2015, has said from the beginning that the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program exceeds the authority of the law. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee and has access to classified information about the NSA’s surveillance practices, said in October that even with the overly broad statutory powers granted to the NSA, “the rules have been broken, and the rules have been broken a lot.”

“We welcome the board’s report, and we agree with is principal conclusions,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The NSA’s call-records dragnet is illegal and ineffective and presents a serious threat to civil liberties.”

Sorry to ask such a 5th grade Social Studies question, but…what is it that’s supposed to happen when people violate the law? I can’t seem to remember.

Update: On Twitter, Scott Horton provides the answer to this question…

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