In a not-so-shocking conclusion, the panel put together by President Barack Obama and tasked with examining the privacy and legal fallout from the massive National Security Agency spying activities revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, has concluded in a new 191-page report that the NSA activity was lawful yet "close to the line of constitutional reasonableness."
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Board said that the myriad of programs it examined were "authorized by Congress, reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and an extremely valuable and effective intelligence tool."
The 191-page report was condemned by civil liberties advocates and scholars, who expected the panel to offer some recommendations on how to balance surveillance with the protection of civil rights under the U.S. Constitution.
"Sadly, the board has failed to fulfill its responsibility here, which is to ensure that counterterrorism policies safeguard privacy and civil liberties,” Elizabeth Goitein, a director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The collection of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails without a warrant is unconstitutional, regardless of whether they are communicating with their next-door neighbor or a suspected terrorist overseas."
"This is a weak report that fails to fully grasp the civil liberties and human rights implications of permitting the government sweeping access to the communications of innocent people," Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union's deputy legal director said.
The data being scooped up is supposed to target foreigners suspected of terrorism. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act grants the NSA the power to target "non-US persons reasonably believed to be located abroad." Yet individual warrants are not required, even if the snooping is performed on US soil.
But the most galling part of the report concerns American citizens; the NSA was founded to conduct surveillance on targets outside the boarders of the United States, but the board mostly ignores that fact in its recommendation that the NSA could continue to spy on Americans without individual warrants if the authorities believe the results would "likely" produce foreign intelligence. If it doesn't, the data should be deleted, the board recommended.
Earlier this year, the board concluded that the NSA's bulk telephone metadata program was a Fourth Amendment breach and did little to combat terrorism. That program has not been discontinued.
The report was a fact-finding mission and is in no way binding on either Congress or the President. You can read the full report here.
Source: Ars Technica