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Technology
NSA Phone Program Is Illegal, Privacy Board Says
By Brendan Sasso
January 23, 2014

The National Security Agency’s program collecting records on virtually all U.S. phone calls violates the law, according to a government privacy board.

In a 238-page report released Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board calls for an end to the program, saying it has never stopped a terrorist attack and threatens the privacy of millions of Americans.

The report is yet another blow to the controversial program, which was first revealed by Edward Snowden last year.

Last Friday, President Obama announced his support for certain reforms to the program, including requiring court approval for the NSA to search through the phone data and moving the database out of the government’s hands. But Obama insisted that the NSA keep its capability to mine millions of phone records, even if the structure of the program is changed.

Congress created the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which called for an independent government agency to guard privacy rights. The small agency only recently became operational, and Thursday’s report is its first major salvo against government surveillance.

The board voted 3-2 to back the conclusions that the bulk collection of phone records is illegal and should end. But all five board members called for a series of immediate changes, such as requiring court approval for searches, reducing how long the NSA holds the data, and limiting the degrees of separation analysts can stray from their initial target from three to two. Obama backed similar reforms in his speech last Friday.

The board’s recommendations go farther than the advisory group President Obama created last year to review the NSA’s program. But that review group also called for major changes to the bulk data collection and concluded the program has not thwarted any terrorist attacks.

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