National Security Agency

Executive Panel Finds NSA Metadata Collection Illegal

An executive review panel says the NSA's phone metadata collection program has no appreciable impact on counterterrorism and raises privacy concerns.

By Evan Thomas | January 23, 2014

An independent analysis panel within the U.S. government's executive branch has found the NSA's phone metadata collection program is illegal and should be shut down.

In its report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board says the Patriot Act doesn't support such a wide-ranging dragnet program. The panel claims it encroaches on civil liberties and found no evidence the program ever influenced any counterterrorism investigations.

"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." (Via The Washington Post)

The five-person board, all members of which are lawyers, doesn't have the authority to do anything but make recommendations to the president and the executive branch. (Via Ars Technica)

And, notably, the board was not unanimous in its overall recommendation that the metadata program be shuttered.

SlashGear explains members Rachel Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook, former Justice Department lawyers under George W. Bush, offered dissenting opinions.

"Brand worried that the criticism could also be detrimental to the morale of other agencies working to protect the country while Cook held that the program shouldn't be judged solely on whether it was able to stop an attack to date."

This split has echoed up the chain of command, as well. Last month two U.S. district courts issued dueling rulings, one finding the NSA's phone data collection legal and the other ruling it unconstitutional.

The PCLOB's report comes a little more than a month after the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies made a similar report and comes just days after President Obama announced a round of reforms to the NSA's practices. (Via The White House, CSPAN)

The New York Times reports some of the new recommendations match those the president has already promised — like independent public advocates in the FISA court.

But the PCLOB aired privacy concerns over other possible changes like the suggestion that phone companies retain call records for any extended period.

The full 238-page report is set to be released Thursday.

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