Washington: A board whose members were appointed by President Barack Obama largely endorsed a set of NSA surveillance programs that have provoked worldwide controversy since they were leaked, while saying some aspects raise privacy concerns meriting new internal intelligence agency safeguards.
The new report, which the five-member bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was to vote today, found that the National Security Agency`s collection of Internet data within the United States passes constitutional muster and employs "reasonable" safeguards designed to protect the rights of Americans.
The first time the board dissected an NSA surveillance program, it found fundamental flaws, arguing in a January report that the NSA`s collection of domestic calling records "lacked a viable legal foundation" and should be shut down. But in its latest study, it takes the opposite view of a different set of NSA programs revealed last year by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden.
Under a provision of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act known as Section 702, the NSA uses court orders and taps on fiber optic lines to target the data of foreigners living abroad when their emails, web chats, text messages and other communications traverse US telecommunications systems.
Section 702, which was added to the act in 2008, includes the so-called PRISM program, under which the NSA collects foreign intelligence from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and nearly every other major American technology company.
The law has its roots in the Terrorist Surveillance Program, a collection program President George W Bush ordered after the 9/11 attacks without seeking a change in the law.
After administration lawyers deemed aspects of it illegal, and after so-called warrantless wiretapping was disclosed in news reports, Congress essentially legalised the program in 2008.
Obama, then a senator running for president, voted in favour of the bill.
US intelligence officials and skeptical members of Congress have agreed that Section 702 has been responsible for disrupting a series of terrorist plots and achieving other insights.
The board said the programs have "led the government to identify previously unknown individuals who are involved in international terrorism, and it has played a key role in discovering and disrupting specific terrorist plots aimed at the United States and other countries."
Because worldwide Internet communications are intermingled on fiber optic lines and in cyberspace, known as the cloud, the collection inevitably sweeps in the communications of Americans with no connection to terrorism or foreign intelligence.
Activists have expressed concern that a secret intelligence agency is obtaining private American communications without individual warrants. Some have questioned how such a program could be legal under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.