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NSA snooping illegal, violates privacy: US watchdog

AFP | Last Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 23:20

Washington: The bulk telephone data collection by a US intelligence agency is a massive violation of civil liberties and should be shut down, a government advisory panel said on Thursday.

A report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a panel created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, concluded the National Security Agency`s huge phone metadata program is illegal in several ways, and provides little or no value to the fight against terrorism.

The panel`s 238-page report said the program "has shown minimal value in safeguarding the nation from terrorism."
"Based on the information provided to the board, including classified briefings and documentation, we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counter terrorism investigation," the report said.

And the panel said the program is not authorised by Patriot Act, the law passed following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It said the program violates constitutional guarantees of free speech and protection against unreasonable searches, and also fails to comply with a federal privacy law.

Moreover, it said the program threatens to have "debilitating consequences for journalism" because "sources in a position to offer crucial information about newsworthy topics may remain silent out of fear that their telephone records could be used to trace their contacts."

"The Section 215 bulk telephone records program lacks a viable legal foundation... 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."
The report said the NSA also stretches the interpretation of what may be "relevant" to a terrorism investigation.

"The government has argued... That essentially the entire nation`s calling records are `relevant` to every counter terrorism investigation," it said.

"The implication of this reasoning is that if the government develops an effective means of searching through everything in order to find something, then everything becomes relevant to its investigations. The word `relevant` becomes limited only by the government`s technological capacity to ingest information and sift through it efficiently."

First Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 23:20

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