Privacy and Civil Liberties Board Reports that NSA Warrantless Surveillance is Okay

Thursday, July 03, 2014

An independent government oversight board has endorsed one of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) controversial data collection programs, saying the agency’s monitoring of communications of foreigners thought to be outside the United States is legal.

But the report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board (PCLOB) did add that some aspects of the program, which also catches millions of Americans’ communications in its net, come close to violating the U.S. Constitution.


The findings of the PCLOB were surprising to NSA critics because only a few months ago, it publicly said the agency should halt collecting bulk phone metadata.


Nevertheless, the gathering of millions of communications from service providers such as Google and Yahoo under approval from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was authorized, the board said, by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and no warrant is necessary.


According to the report, “Section 702 permits the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to jointly authorize surveillance targeting persons who are not U.S. persons, and who are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States, with the compelled assistance of electronic communication service providers, in order to acquire foreign intelligence information. Thus, the persons who may be targeted under Section 702 cannot intentionally include U.S. persons or anyone located in the United States, and the targeting must be conducted to acquire foreign intelligence information as defined in FISA.”


The NSA also can legally vacuum up information from so-called “upstream sources, such as by tapping undersea cables,” the PCLOB stated in its report, according to Wired.


These activities have pushed “close to the line of constitutional reasonableness,” the board’s members agreed, which did little to assuage privacy advocates hoping for a tougher response.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the report “legally flawed and factually incomplete.”


“Hiding behind the ‘complexity’ of the technology, it gives short shrift to the very serious privacy concerns that the surveillance has rightly raised for millions of Americans,” EFF’s Cindy Cohn wrote. “The board also deferred considering whether the surveillance infringed the privacy of many millions more foreigners abroad.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Report: Oversight Board Finds Little Wrong With NSA Surveillance Program (by Kim Zetter, Wired)

Independent Panel: NSA Surveillance Program Targeting Foreigners Is Lawful (by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post)

Flawed Oversight Board Report Endorses General Warrants (by Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Report on the Surveillance Program Operated Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act            (Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board) (pdf)

Privacy Board Report on Mass Telephone Surveillance Divides on Party Lines (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment