Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Report: Government’s Metadata Collection Illegal

Leaked copies of the upcoming report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) have made their way to the New York Times and the Washington Post this morning, revealing that the group's review of the government's metadata collection practices are not legal.

The report says that the government's activities in this area lack "a viable legal foundation under Section 215, 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 group recommends in its report that the government should stop collecting metadata.

Three of the five members of the board went as far as saying that the entire program is illegal. That aside, the group does not have any legal authority to force the federal government to stop its spying activities. All the group can do is make recommendations to law makers, who tend to – based on their positions on whether we need all this spying or not – have a tin ear.

The report also acknowledges for the first time that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court "produced no judicial opinion detailing its legal rationale for the program until last August, even though it had been issuing orders to phone companies for the records and to the N.S.A. for how it could handle them since May 2006."

"The Board believes that the Section 215 program has contributed only minimal value in combating terrorism beyond what the government already achieves through these and other alternative means," the report said, according to the Post. "Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government’s efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations."

According to the Times, the report also notes that "no instance in which the [metadata] program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack."

Ars Technica has a lot more details on the report here. It looks like security hawks in D.C. are not getting the kind of information they'd like to hear from various groups this month on the NSA's spying operations both here and abroad.

We will continue to follow this story as it develops.

Source: Ars Technica

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