High-Level Independent Review: NSA Phone Spying Is Illegal, Should EndS

An independent review, by a board made up of senior ex-government members, has concluded that the National Security Agency's long-running program to collect phone records is illegal and should stop.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has written a report—whose contents was shared with Obama ahead of his speech last week—which states that the statute upon which the spying is based "does not provide an adequate basis to support this program." In other words, it's illegal and should be stopped.

The panel's conclusions go further than Obama's. While the President is insistent that the NSA's ventures are vital for national security, the independent panel is less convinced:

"We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack."

The 238-page report is bound to cause debate, especially given that it disagrees with Obama, 15 federal surveillance court judges and the Justice Department— but agrees with the rest of us—in concluding that the actions of the NSA cannot be grounded in Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

The board was made up of Rachel L. Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook (Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration), David Medine (former Federal Trade Commission official in the Clinton administration), James X. Dempsey (public policy expert with the Center for Democracy & Technology), and Patricia M. Wald (a retired federal appeals court judge).

The board wasn't unanimous on the issue of ending bulk collection, with Brand and Collins both concluding that the program could be modified in such a way as to make it fit to continue. Regardless, though, the message is clear: not all senior officials think that what the NSA is doing is good or proper. [Washington Post]